Perfumes have always been a big deal to women (and maybe to men, I wouldn’t know). The price we pay for our precious perfumes make it difficult for us to let it go to any kind of waste. So I can’t imagine what possessed Mary, the sister of Lazarus, to break an entire alabaster jar of perfume worth a year’s wages on Jesus’ head! Translated to this nation’s annual minimum wage, that would be around Php115,000 (USD2,300).
Let’s backtrack a little bit. This incident is referred to as the “anointing of Jesus Christ” and although it is found in three of the gospels (some argue it is in all of the four), I find the one in John the most enlightening. I love the gospel of John because it shows Jesus’ emotions in a way that is not found in the other gospels and it makes him more vulnerable and more relatable somehow.
Before the perfume-breaking event in chapter 12, we find out that Jesus has a close friendship with Mary and her siblings, Martha and Lazarus. (Although the events of the gospel of John is not necessarily in order, we know the anointing happened after the events in chapter 11 because of the reference to Lazarus’ resurrection in chapter 12). Something strange happened that turned into something awesome.
In the first part of chapter 11, it is established who the siblings were to Jesus and that Lazarus was very sick and so the sisters, knowing the miracles of Jesus, sent a message to him. They weren’t precisely asking him to go and heal Lazarus, but if you are friends with someone, you’ll get the message. And Jesus is far from dense or insensitive. The strange thing is his response. It’s ironic that verse 5 said, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” and yet this statement is followed by “So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.” I mean, if your friend whom you loved is very ill and it’s within your power to do something about it, wouldn’t you go to him with all haste? And yet Jesus stayed where he was for TWO MORE DAYS.
After two days he goes to Bethany, where the siblings reside, but Lazarus was already dead AND buried. When Jesus arrived, it says in verse 20, “So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house.” I just love John’s subtleties. I can just feel the emotional charges, even when they are not explicitly described. Mary felt betrayed and heartbroken, because she thought Jesus cared and it seems he didn’t really care after all. Honestly, I’d feel the same. And how many times in our life do we feel like Jesus does not really care, because he didn’t do things the way we expect him to? Because, come on, if he cared why does he let me experience suffering? You can feel her disappointment with Jesus in verse 32. “Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”” “Lord, if you cared enough, you would have…” “Lord if you really loved me, you would have…” And so goes our litany of disappointments.
But God’s ways are higher than our ways. In verse 14-15, “Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”” Yet the beautiful thing about Jesus is that he feels our hurts deeply, even if he has a higher purpose for allowing the pain. In verse 33, it says, “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept.” He feels for you and I when we are in the depths of pain. And yet he sticks to his purpose because he knows how it will make us even more firm in our faith.
And he does go the extra mile. By raising Lazarus from the dead, he firmly established his power over death, making more people believe in him. And if I were Mary, I’d break my Versace and let it flow to the floor, too, in awe and extravagant worship of this amazing God, who loved me so much he was willing to be a lowly human for thirty years and die an excruciating death on the cross EVEN in the midst of my rebellion. If I were Mary, I would fall on my feet in tears and wipe His feet with my hair, too, saying “Lord, I’m sorry! I’m sorry for thinking you don’t care for me enough. I’m sorry for putting you in a box, thinking you can only heal but not raise the dead to life. I’m sorry I forgot how much of a sinner I was and that I deserved death and eternal punishment, yet you did not just come to give me life but to life it to the full.”
An additional note:
Although it is agreed by many biblical scholars that the woman who anointed Jesus in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and John is Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, many dispute over the identity of the woman in the book of Luke, mostly because that woman is described to be a sinner (a prostitute, according to some sources). But come to think of it, we know nothing about the past of the three siblings. Who’s to say that Mary couldn’t have been a prostitute just because she is recognized as a close friend of Jesus? (I know, I’m breaking stereotypes here and ripe tomatoes might be thrown at me any minute, but isn’t Jesus the friend of prostitutes, tax collectors and sinners?) Besides, even if she were not a prostitute, I’m sure she’s still a sinner, for haven’t we all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God? Wouldn’t that be an even greater reason to worship him extravagantly?