I don’t know how I missed it before… and somehow I feel like most of us have missed it. I’ve heard the story a million times, it seems, and somehow we all seem to miss the significance of the pure nard.
Mary enters the room, carrying a vial of perfume worth a years wages, and breaks it over the Lord’s head and feet, anointing Him for burial. Judas, the miser, condemns her for it. “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to poor people?” And Jesus, once again, defends her. (It seems that Mary is always finding herself in the predicament of being judged by others for her radical adoration of Him… and Jesus always comes to her defense.)
I was fully aware that Mary’s sacrifice was a very costly one. The nard was worth a year’s wages, for crying out loud. That’s a lot of money.
What I had never noticed before was that it was perfume! Sure, I knew that as factual information, but what I mean is that I’d never given thought towards the significance of it being perfume. If she had not given the whole bottle to the Lord then she would’ve probably worn it.
I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve smelled (and gotten a headache from) plenty of cheap perfume. Perfume scent can easily fill a room. But I also know what good oils smell like. I’m a soap maker, which means that my house is full of blissful smelling essential oils.
Somehow, I have a sense that Mary’s pure nard was significantly better than anything I have in my house and that anyone who smelled it would immediately know that this was a woman of prominence, to be wearing such rich smelling perfume.
What Mary sacrificed, while kneeling at the Lord’s feet and wiping them with her hair and her delectable perfume, was not only a very costly gift, but symbolically, it was her reputation. What she was in essence saying was that she didn’t care what others walking by (smelling or not smelling her) thought of her. She didn’t care if they knew she had wealth, influence, honor. She only cared about blessing Jesus with her expensive perfume and her adoration. In fact, her act of worship was pretty undignified. She was kneeling on the floor, wiping Someone’s road-worn feet with her hair! I don’t know about you, but I’ve never laid my dignity down, in worship, like that before.
I see this same attitude of humility in Christ, Himself. Jesus didn’t pick influential, prominent people to surround Himself with. He picked the dregs. He picked fishermen and tax collectors and prostitutes. And for those of you who don’t know it, tax collectors were about as well-respected in those days as really scuzzy lawyers or politicians are in our day (no one would want to be friends with them…. except Jesus).
He didn’t seem to care too much about His own reputation, only about making the Father smile. It says that “although He existed in the form of God, He did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:6-11)
And even in death, Christ chose to unite Himself with criminals. He talked to the promiscuous woman at the well. He touched folks with leprosy. One of His close friends, Mary Magdelene, was formerly possessed by 7 demons, before Christ’s deliverance.
You know, we live in a world and in bodies that bid us to think that our reputations matter a whole lot, that the way that others view us actually counts for something. If we believe this, it will cause us to only chose friends that make us look good, or at least don’t make us look bad. But is that how God Almighty handled things? If we actually care about how others perceive us, then we are infinitely less likely to break our own “vials of pure nard” and give away our greatest treasures and even our own reputations for the sake of giving God glory and making Jesus smile.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been that friend and have had friends who nobody really wants.
During the times in life when I have been that person, I’ve known a lot of folks who have tried to change me from the outside in (and just ticked me off) and a lot of friends who just loved me like Jesus and were very effectual at helping change me from the inside out.
When I find myself on the other end of things, I end up with a lot of friends who have “issues”. No one really wants them, because they are difficult and embarrassing. But I know how love can change a man and how the unlovely need loved the most. So I attempt to love like Jesus. Because I strongly believe that you can’t truly love Jesus and care too much about your own reputation simultaneously. And loving Jesus matters more!