Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. There they made him a supper; Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at table with him. Mary took a pound of costly ointment of pure nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment. – John 12:1-3
John records that Jesus returned to Bethany, this time six days before the Passover – less than a week before Jesus would be crucified. As the Passover approaches in John’s Gospel, every detail takes on eternal significance, including that Jesus returns to the home of the very man he raised from death. John tells us that Lazarus was there and that Martha served, but the focus of this narrative is on sister Mary.
It was a customary expression of hospitality for a servant of the host to wash the feet of guests. A basin of water and a towel were commonly used to wash off dust and perhaps to soothe tired feet. Mary offered just such an act of hospitality, but her expression of hospitality was far more extravagant and intimate. First, it was not her servant who attended to this task. She took the role of a servant. Second, she did not use water but “a pound of costly ointment of pure nard.” Nard, sometimes called spikenard, nardin, or muskroot, was used in Jesus’ day as incense in such places as the Temple and was also as a sedative and medicinal herb. It was incredibly expensive, a pound costing as much as a year’s worth of wages. The fragrance is similar to muskoil, and a single drop could fill and entire room with its aroma.
John tells us that Mary took a pound of pure nard and anointed Jesus’ feet – an extreme act of hospitality and an extravagant expression of love. However, the act became even more extreme when she used her own hair to wipe his feet. Such intimacy is shocking even to us as we read of it 2,000 years later. We can only imagine the feelings of awkwardness of those who witnessed such an extreme, intimate, and extravagant gesture. Mary seemed to be little concerned with the thoughts and feelings of others. Her actions were motivated only by her deep affection for her Lord.
Mary’s extravagant offering marks the beginning of the passion narrative, the final events of Jesus’ life, as he journeys to the cross to make his own extravagant offering.
Lord Jesus, help me accept your extravagant love and share it through acts of service. Amen.
A Bible Study devotional blog by Gorman Houston