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TO CHEW ON: "Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil." John 12:3
Some of the questions that come to me as I read this story are:
- What was special about spikenard oil and why did Mary have it on hand?
- What was she intending to do with it?
- Why anoint Jesus' feet?
- What would motivate her to give such an extravagant gift?
Study Bibles to the rescue!
According to my New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, "Spikenard was a valuable and fragrant ointment derived from the dried roots of the herbal plant called nard. By the first century A.D. it was already being imported from its native India in alabaster boxes because of its costliness" - Siegfried Schatzmann, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible p. 1465.
Why did Mary have this oil? According to the Quest Study Bible, she had purchased it to anoint Jesus' body when He did die (I'm sure not expecting it to be mere weeks later). "It was not uncommon for family or friends to spend enormous sums of money on strong perfumes and spices to mask the door of a decaying body" - Quest Study Bible, p. 1486.
As for anointing Jesus' feet, the custom was to wash a guest's feet and anoint his head. QSB suggests that Mary (and another woman who also anointed Jesus' feet—Luke 7:37-38) felt unworthy to anoint His head.
Recalling what had recently happened in Mary's life (Jesus' resurrection of her brother Lazarus), we can understand the gratitude and love and respect, and frankly awe, she had for Jesus. Her lavish gift (calculated to be "equivalent to the annual income of a labourer" - QSB, Op. Cit.) was her way of expressing all these feelings to the living Jesus.
As the scene played out, what started as a private gesture soon became very public as the perfume scent filled the house, leading to both ridicule and praise.
Applying this story to life, we in the 21st century have no physical Jesus on whom to pour our love and gratitude—for changed lives, hope for the future, help with our day to day living, healing (both physical and spiritual), etc. But we can still say thank you with the most precious gift we have—our lives. Paul makes the very comparison of our lives to perfume in 2 Corinthians 2:14:
For most of us this is a private gift—a habitual and daily "yes" to what He asks of us. The perfume of this gift may not seem to be going anywhere. But there are sacrificed lives—which were also given in private—whose fragrance has "filled the house." people like David Livingstone, David Brainard, Jim Elliot and many others. I believe heaven will be full of the fragrance the the "very costly oil" of lives poured out for Jesus. May ours be among them!
PRAYER: Dear Jesus, help me to continually give you my most valuable possession, my life, with words and actions that say "Yes, help Yourself to me." Amen.
Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.