A Jar of Alabaster

There are a lot of directions to take when reflecting about Palm Sunday. It is difficult to explore everything! Just as Jesus was welcomed as king as he rode into Jerusalem, hopefully we believe him to be the savior of our lives today. There’s also the layer of self-examination, since many who praised Jesus were shouting “crucify him!” later in the week. From biblical prophecy to salvation, the final week of Jesus covers a lot of important topics.

In John’s gospel, there’s another moment of praise and worship that occurs right before the “triumphal entry.” You might be familiar with the story of the woman anointing Jesus. Here’s how John 12:1-11 reads:

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.

But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him.

This is a powerful story recounted in all four gospels. It was often the case in Jesus’ life that the insiders did not truly “get it” when it comes to Jesus’ identity. The religious folk frequently complained about his ministry. The disciples even seemed to misunderstand Jesus’ true mission.

On the other hand, Mary of Bethany was the one who truly understood Jesus in this scene. According to the text, it sounds like she understands where Jesus will end up, since she offers expensive perfume normally set aside for someone’s burial. One of the powerful things about God’s kingdom is that it is often revealed in the most unlikely ways. This was definitely the case in the ancient world, where women did not have many rights or say about their destiny! Mary teaches us to worship Christ with our whole heart.

There’s a poem I found this week reflecting on this scene of powerful worship. It was written by Fr. David Hilt and is titled “Bethany.” Consider this depiction of Jesus being anointed:

You came into our life on feet

like dusty heartbeats, beating bare,

your human heart out-pouring love

and life for one whom even death

itself could not keep back from you.

And I have nothing worth your gift;

incomp’rable, to place into 

your hands but my most costly thing;

a poor excuse compared with All.

This earthen vessel, feminine,

I break before your dusty feet

and pour its oil, perfumed and rich,

to cleanse the dust from calloused toes

and wipe them, intimate, with hair

that just a spouse should see and fear

I intimate your death. This gift,

this chrism meant for you alone

lifts up its heady scent and fills

this house like prayer, confirming dust

with sanctity and all because

you came into my life on feet

like dusty heartbeats beating bare.

And lastly, I encourage you to listen to this powerful song, “Alabaster Heart” by Bethel Music:

This week, as you ready yourself for Easter, may you truly worship Christ and see him for who he is, just like Mary did so long ago!

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