“Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” John 12:1-3
In order to fully grasp understand and grasp what is going on here, I invite you to come and step into the text with me. The Feast of Passover is quickly approaching. Every Jewish male is required to be in Jerusalem at this time. Jesus has just arrived in Bethany, where Mary, Martha and Lazarus, close friends of Jesus, reside. It is also here, just a few days ago, where Jesus turned the water into wine.
It is right about now that Jesus arrives on the scene and with simply the power of His spoken word commands Lazarus to “Come out.” And guess what? He did! Lazarus is raised from the dead. And as a result, we are told in John 11:45, “many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him.” In the meantime, however, religious leaders were plotting to kill Jesus. A few days later, a dinner was being prepared for Jesus at the home of Simon the Leper. According to custom, the men would eat together while the women served. This is why, of course, we find Martha frying up the bacon in a pan while Lazarus is hanging out with the guests.
While Martha is busy slaving away in the kitchen, we see Mary, the other sister of Lazarus, carry out an alabaster jar of expensive perfume. Kneeling behind Jesus, she breaks the bottle and empties it out all over the hands and feet of Jesus. Immediately, everyone is astonished and caught off guard. The fragrant smell of perfume fills the room. You may be surprised by what happens next..
Judas Iscariot, one of the disciples, is infuriated and quickly reprimands her, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? it was worth a year’s wages.” (John 12:5) Before you know it, poor Mary is being interrogated by everyone in the room.
One person doesn’t point a finger. One person is not amused by the response of others. One person is unafraid to take a stand. His name is Jesus. Shockingly, He doesn’t cast judgement, but rather comes to the defense of Mary. “Leave her alone…Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.” (Mark 16:8) You see, Mary could not help but demonstrate her love for Jesus. She was willing to surrender her everything, pouring her life out at His feet. She was unashamed to make a public declaration.
Mary’s dramatic act of love and devotion was costly. She willingly gives up one of her most prized possessions. Then, with all eyes glued to her from around the room, Mary does something absolutely extraordinary. She lets down her hair and begins to dry Jesus’ feet. You see, women during this time in history, never let their hair down in public or before other men. But Mary unabashedly shows her love and affection for Jesus.
The Passover meal is only a few days away. To the dismay of Jesus, we see His closest friends, the disciples, show unwillingness to wash other’s feet. They thought too highly of themselves to be considered for such a lowly task. A sharp contrast to the previous actions of Mary. And guess who also is unafraid, unashamed and unlikely to be washing other’s feet? We see Jesus get on His hands and knees to serve. Time and time again Jesus portraying a picture of servanthood and loving others more than yourself. Jesus explains, “You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:13-14)
Are you willing to give with no strings attached? Without expecting anything in return? True love is not cheap. It comes with a price. It will cost you something…whether it be money, time, effort, energy or even your pride. True love acts expecting nothing in return. No thank you note. No pat on the back. No hall of fame.