John 12:1-3. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
In this passage, John offers us an incarnational parable of the Lenten moment: of the tension between lament and the in-breaking Kingdom of new life.
John’s gospel places this story at a time of transition and contradiction. Jesus is a wanted man. The Sanhedrin have ordered his arrest. Instead of laying low in the countryside, he is making his way to Jerusalem. Jesus has raised Lazarus from the dead and tonight they are feasting together with his sisters. But Mary seems to understand what is coming, anointing Jesus’ feet as though for death, as his earthly ministry enters its final days. In Mary’s sorrow, she lavishes Jesus with expensive spikenard; the fragrance is said to be like a luxurious leather coat spread out over a forest floor. Here is beauty, as Mary offers her gift of love, and the scent permeates the house.
One can smell the scent of lamenting sorrow but also taste the feast of joy and new life. So much like our daily lives: while lifting our laments to God for all that is broken, we keep our eyes open to celebrate the signs of new life.
— David & Suzie Franson