The Extravagance of Love
Mary Anointing Jesus by Peter Paul Rubens
This picture illustrates Jesus and his disciples at the home of friends -- Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha -- who live in Bethany and are giving a dinner in the Lord's honor. The account is found in John 12:1-8. They are a grateful family as Lazarus had recently died. After four days in the tomb, Jesus came and called on Lazarus to come out of the tomb. He was resurrected to life in a miracle that fast spread around the countryside. Yes, they were a very grateful family. For Jesus, this is the last respite before he goes to his death. None are aware of the imminence of his death except for him.
Peter Paul Rubens has actually painted two scenes in one painting. One is above the table and one below. Mary is anointing Jesus' feet in this painting. She probably started at his head as it was customary for a host to pour a few drops of fragrant oil on a visitor's head. But to anoint the feet was an act of humility and love. With her long hair, Mary is shown drying his feet. She cradles the Lord's foot as though it was a baby.
She was overwhelmed to have her brother Lazarus back but also overwhelmed with the realization that Jesus truly was the Son of God. Mary's heart was full of gratitude and love for her Lord and there was nothing too good to give him. Here was the Son of God and He was in their home. How many more opportunities would they have to entertain their special guest?
Mary owned a full liter of pure nard and decided it was something she could give for Jesus. To use the nard was a decision to pour out approximately one year of wages. Once it was gone, it was gone. This act of kindness (called a beautiful thing by the Lord) cost Mary something precious. She had poured it out on her Lord never to be retrieved.
It was an Eastern custom to anoint a dead person with nard (head to toe), then break the flask and bury the shards with the body. Mary's act was prophetic and recognized only by Jesus as a perfume for the day of his burial. In a few days, he would be dead.
If we focus on the scene above the table we see the women serving while the men are seated. All eyes are on Jesus as he talks, except for one man -- Judas Iscariot. He is the man slightly to the left of Jesus with black hair and beard. He stares straight ahead.
The room, now full of the fragrance of nard has brought pleasure to the Lord but indignation to his disciples. Some were thinking what Judas expressed out loud, "Why this waste?" For three years they had walked with Jesus teaching, healing, feeding, and helping needy people. A year's wage could have helped a lot of people. Now it was gone. What a waste.
This was a teachable moment and the Lord was making full use of it. Jesus' right hand is extended towards Mary as if to gesture "look at her" and what she is doing. Judas and the others at the table are silenced for a moment and listening.
"The poor you always have with you but you don't always have me."
Mary had her priorities right. Here in front of her sat the Son of God and he was worth all she had to give. Even though the disciples had labored with Jesus for three years, had they yet come to realize that they walked with the Son of God?
Nothing small that we do for Jesus ever goes unnoticed. However little or much we have, if it's "wasted" on Jesus it will not be wasted. It will be recognized by Jesus Christ and before his Father in Heaven.
Our small acts of giving and kindness to Jesus is one way that we can bless the Lord. Men may feel it a waste and criticize us but Jesus will know your love and commitment to Him and bless you in return. Every small act of love ripples out into the distance to someplace, some person, at some time creating a movement far beyond the small pebble dropped.
Mary's extravagant act of love has gone down in history -- this story is told in three of the four gospels. In Heaven, no act of love goes unnoticed.