“And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head.”
A beautiful act has a way of captivating our attention, and of influencing us to duty through almost a side-door of reasoning. Jesus said of Mary, “She has done a beautiful thing to me” (Mark 14:6). Let your mind be filled with the beauty of this event. Do not be in a rush; this is a fragrant event worthy of a long intake of breath.
Unmotivated by guilt before God or by fear before men, she freely gave her Lord a costly gift. Like the woman who earlier anointed His feet, she too loved much. In contrast to that earlier woman, who loved much because she was forgiven much, perhaps Mary loved much because she had been given much. She had recently received her brother back from the dead. Either way, it is evident she loved Jesus greatly.
It is also evident that she gave unreservedly. She broke the white, white flask, and poured out very costly, very pure perfume. The disciples estimated its value at three hundred denarii, which was about the value of a year’s worth of hard labor. These same disciples called it a waste, thinking of the utilitarian value for such a sizable amount. With so many poor, how could this woman waste such expense on one man, in one event! And what would we say to a gift of twenty thousand dollars? Surely a lesser amount would have honored Jesus as well!
Jesus knew the cost, but He did not consider it a waste. He said, “She did what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial.” The perfume had a use, and it could only be considered a waste, if the coming death were denied, or the dying Person despised. It is interesting to ponder whether the scent of this perfume lingered on Jesus’ body all the way through the coming days of mock trial and bloody execution. Perhaps so. At the very least, we know from another gospel that the aroma of the perfume filled the room.
Jesus linked this act to the gospel, saying that wherever the gospel is proclaimed, her deed would also be told in remembrance of her. Just as the broken bread and the poured out cup were to be done in remembrance of Jesus, so the story of the broken flask and poured out perfume were to be told in remembrance of her. Such close parallels lend themselves to a comparison between the love of Mary for Jesus and the love of Jesus for us. Just as she poured out pure perfume from a pure flask, filling the room with scent, so did Jesus. His very life, the life of God, was held in a pure body until the day of His death, upon which He poured it out freely, filling the world with the aroma of His love. How fitting that Jesus emphasized the spread of the gospel in commenting on the remembrance of Mary’s act!
In contrast, our love is often measured and calculated. We calculate how we will gain from this expenditure, and we measure it out lest we should expend too much. Pure love does not act this way. Pure love gives unremittingly, begging for the opportunity to give. This was the way of the Macedonian Christians, full of grace, giving both themselves and their poverty in joy. This was also the way of the apostle, who said, “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls. If I love you more, am I to be loved less?” This too was the way of Jesus, who became poor for our sakes, that we through His poverty might become rich.
John, the love of a husband should not be measured and calculated. Like the love of Mary for Jesus, and the love of Jesus for us, you should be broken and poured out in love for your wife. Little love will love little, and will be grieved if it is not returned or continues to be poured out. Such love holds on tightly to personal goals and schedules, to personal honor and thanksgivings, and to personal space and pride. Believe me, your home will not be filled with the aroma of Christ until all such grips are broken—indeed, until you are broken and poured out. Do not measure your love or calculate your gain. Be broken and poured out freely for your wife, anointing her with better perfume than she can wear. The interesting thing of perfume is how it covers the stench of sweat and decay. Such is the power of fervent love, which covers a multitude of transgressions!
This is not a feminine exercise, as if Mary’s love can be dismissed as a lady’s act alone. If men are especially known for their task-orientation, Mary’s sister Martha surely lived up to that reputation. No, this is a personal trait. It is a trait of Jesus. And it should be a trait of yours. Believe me, we will detect the difference, whether such an aroma is present in your home or not.