“Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair; the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil” (Jn 12:3). This is indeed some gift that Mary shares with Jesus, though Judas’ critical response showed that he missed the point of her offering, which went well beyond the material cost of the perfume. Mary even exceeded the gesture of hospitality by going beyond washing Jesus’ feet in anointing them as well. This act of caring could have been a bestowal of appreciation and gratefulness toward Jesus who brought Lazarus, her brother, back to life, but it was even more than that.
In Jesus’ correction of Judas, “Leave her alone. Let her keep this for the day of my burial” (Jn 12:7), we may intuit the best source for interpreting Mary’s act. Mary comprehended better than any of the Apostles that Jesus’ death was imminent. Mary’s washing the feet of Jesus, anointing them, and drying them with her hair was a gift of love, of giving herself in service to the Son of God. This exchange mirrors the communion between God the Father, God the Son, and the love shared between them, God the Holy Spirit. Mary follows the will of the Father and plays her part in salvation history.
We do not know how Mary came to possess this precious oil, but what we do know is much more important. She did not grasp or cling to the oil, she did not count the cost and just pour out a little bit. When she felt moved to pour the costly nard and anoint the feet of Jesus she freely poured all the perfume out in an act of love to serve the need of Jesus by anointing him for his death and burial. Even Peter, James, and John would not be able to stay awake in the garden with Jesus in his time of need.
As we continue our steps into Holy Week, may we contemplate what we may hold as precious that God may be calling us to give up, to let go of, not just for the sake of doing so, but in service to Jesus? The path to holiness and sanctity, is coming to a place in our lives in which we can let go of that which we are attached to, so to hear clearly the will of God, know what is required of us, and give freely in love and service without counting the cost, to be as St. Mother Teresa has said, just a pencil in God’s hand.
Painting: Mary anointing the feet of Jesus, artist unknown