There are a lot of different ways in which one person can express their love for another. For example, we can buy gifts such as chocolates, flowers, jewellery or perfume.
Could you imagine buying super-expensive perfume for the person you love, pouring it over that person’s feet and then wiping your loved one’s feet with your hair?
When I read John 12:1-8, I have to ask why Mary would do that? Why would someone take a bottle of perfume which is worth a year’s wages, pour it over someone’s feet and then wipe them with her hair?
In the previous chapter of John’s gospel, we read that Jesus had raised Mary’s brother Lazarus from death sometime before this event. As Mary approached Jesus with her bottle of expensive perfume, we can imagine that her heart was overflowing with gratitude and love for the gift Jesus had given her – the life of her brother. It’s impossible to put a price tag on a gift like that. Even though it might have been her most prized possession, I imagine that Mary would have seen the value of that bottle of perfume as pretty insignificant compared to the life Jesus had restored to her. So Mary approached Jesus, opened the precious bottle, emptied its connects over the feet of the man who had given life to her brother, and wiped them with her hair. John tells us that the whole house was filled with the fragrance of the love Mary showed Jesus in that act.
Can you imagine loving Jesus that much? If we put ourselves in Mary’s place, what would be the thing you value most in your life? Would you be able to lay it at Jesus feet and give it all over to him? I ask that because we can easily read this story without gully grasping the full extent of Mary’s love for Jesus. Seeing the story from her perspective, asking ourselves if we could do the same thing, is a way to uncover and explore the enormous magnitude of her love for Jesus because of the gift with which he blessed her.
I wonder if we sometimes lose sight of this love which lies at the heart of the Christian faith. For example, I believe there are good reasons for our congregation adopting our Discipling Plan and moving towards a more intergenerational model of ministry. However, we can get so focussed on the business and busyness of church that we can miss what’s really important. This story challenges us to ask if we love Jesus as much as Mary. Everything else we do as church is fine and good, but if we’re not doing it out of love for Jesus, then are we missing the point?
What would it be like to love Jesus so much that we’d be ready and willing to pour out the most valuable thing we have at his feet? In our Lutheran tradition we have tended to have a more intellectual approach to the faith, and we are usually pretty wary of expressions of the faith that are overly emotional. But if we believe that Jesus saved our whole selves, then that salvation also includes our emotions and feelings. So how can we talk about loving God and loving others without our feelings and emotions being involved? If we are going to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, then our emotions and feelings will be part of that love as well.
As a pastor, I wonder how can I help people love Jesus like Mary loved him. She did this in response to the gift Jesus had given her – the life of her brother – and Jesus uses it to point forward to his own death. We are in a different position to Mary because we don’t just witness the resurrection of one man, we are witnesses to the resurrection of the Son of Man who gives life to all who believe in him. We have been given a greater gift than Mary because Jesus gives us his life to us through faith in him. This is life lived in a new relationship with almighty God as our loving heavenly Father. This is a life in which we can find our identity, belonging and purpose. Jesus’ life is stronger than death, full of grace and peace, love and joy, which will last for all of eternity. Mary loved Jesus for the gift of life he gave her. How much more can we love Jesus for the gift of his life that he gives us through the Holy Spirit?
Another way to see the love of Jesus for us in this story is in what Mary poured out for him. The value of her gift shows how much she valued Jesus. Jesus shows us how much he values us through what he poured out for us. Mary poured perfume worth a year’s salary over Jesus’ smelly feet. Jesus poured out his life-blood on the cross to make us clean and acceptable to God. He did this because we are so precious to him. Mary gave her greatest treasure out of love for Jesus. Jesus gave the most valuable thing he had, his life, because of his great love for each of us. We can look at Mary and think we could never do that. However, we can also place ourselves in Jesus’ seat at the table, and see him coming to us in Mary with the most valuable thing he has. Jesus pours his blood over us to clean us from the dirt and stink of sin. Our lives are now overflowing with the sweet fragrance of Jesus’ love and grace to us, so that our whole lives can be filled with its sweet smell, just like the fragrance of Mary’s perfume filled the whole house.
There are a lot of different ways in which one person can express their love for another. What’s important is the love which motivates them. Mary showed her love for Jesus when she poured out her expensive perfume over Jesus’ feet. We can discover this kind of love in Jesus who poured out his blood for us, so we can find our sense of value and significance in what he gave for us. When we live every day in this gift, the sweet smell of Jesus’ love can fill our whole lives for everyone to experience.