An Act of Self-Filled Love
Published Feb. 9, 2012 @ 6 a.m.
In the thirteenth chapter of John’s Gospel there is related an event that tells us all about worship. We have already met Mary and Martha and John reminds us that these are the two sisters of Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead. Mary takes a pint jar of pure nard and pours it on Jesus’ feet and then proceeds to clean Jesus’ feet by wiping them with her hair. Mary’s act is an act of total devotion. John contrasts Mary’s act of total devotion with the lack of devotion that belonged to Judas Iscariot.
Mary’s devotion begins kneeling at Jesus’ feet. Position was everything in the ancient world. There was no notion of everyone being created equal. Rather, there was always an established pecking order. Kneeling at someone else’s feet placed you at their disposal and it was used by slaves before their masters, and commoners before royalty. Mary’s kneeling before Jesus communicates to us that Mary considered Jesus to be her master and her king.
The glory of an unmarried woman in the ancient world was her hair. Mary takes her glory and uses her glory to wipe Jesus’ feet. Once again, this is an act of utter devotion. I wonder if any of us would be willing to take whatever we were best known for, whatever was the best of everything we have, whatever we are most proud of, and use it to wipe Jesus’ feet. And we know things Mary does not know. We get to look at Jesus’ through the resurrection. Mary just knew Jesus as a man.
Nard is from a plant that grows in the Himalayan valleys of China and India. The very distance it had to be transported and the national borders that had to be crossed made it expensive. Indeed, Judas tells us the cost of the perfume was equal to three hundred days wages. It is likely that this perfume represented the very best thing that Mary had to offer. It represented her labor, her blood, sweat and tears, and it is unlikely that she would ever be able to replace this perfume. And yet, here she is pouring it out on Jesus’ feet!
What Mary does is an act of self-filled love. What I mean by that is that Mary pours everything she is into this act of devotion towards Jesus. That perfume represents Mary’s life for a year. The hair represents Mary’s glory. The kneeling represents Mary’s pride. All of this is poured out upon the feet of Jesus. Can we truthfully say that we have done the same?
Contrasted to Mary is the answer of Judas the traitor. In many ways Judas has poured out his life before Jesus as well. He had been following Jesus since Galilee so he has given up home and job and life as well. And while Judas pilfered the money box his concern for the poor is in line with most religious teachings. In fact, haven’t many of us often put practicality ahead of devotion in the past?
The difference between Mary and Judas might not really be the things that we expect. It isn’t cost or the willingness to give everything; they both paid dearly and gave up everything they knew to follow Jesus. But Judas was in love with the ideas of Jesus. Mary loved Jesus. In order to truly worship Jesus Christ we have to be more than in love with the idea of Jesus. We have to love Jesus.