Only a few months had past when Jesus last was in Bethany. The time between Lazarus’ resurrection and Jesus’ arrival felt a short eternity to Mary and her sister. Can you imagine such rollercoaster: the depth of despair and the height of hope, all in four day's time? Resurrection and Life filled every moment since, and tonight a celebration, for the One by whom breath was given was reclining at table, Lazarus beside him.
Food. Wine. Music. Embracing. A joyful chaos resound, you could taste it with each inhale between bite and laughter. This, a celebration of life, like no other. But the moment was webbed with more than music and wine. For Mary, the melody of lute and lyre ascended with smiles but descended in minor intervals. The bittersweet moment caught her soul and she retreated to the back room. Martha thought little of it. She had learned to let Mary have her minute of retreat, this is how a functioning introvert a good sister keeps as friend and ally, and she continued pouring wine and serving bread.
Mary returned, a flask in hand, she didn’t stop to ask, or speak, or stand, but knelt beside the Lord. Then she poured upon his head ointment of pure nard; an aroma, like his presence, soared across the room, alerting all to her intent. All clatter and song, sound and chatter dissolved into the fragrance. There was not man, woman, servant nor child whom didn’t stand aghast or amazed. Jesus fixed his gaze on his adoring child. Oil flowed down on head and beard, shoulder and gown, and the ground savored the sap that touched the Savior's skin.
She wasn’t finished. Mary, who paid no mind to civil duty— now at His feet, what was she doing? First learning, then weeping, now anointing, and mopping up the feet of one whom brings good news. No shoes, but sandals, the earth-crusted toes of God, soiled, were swabbed with a mop of tresses. She wiped his feet with her hair! Callused, well-traveled and worn, through Judea, Samaria, and territories North, with dust from adulterated lands. She put her hands to anoint the feet of the Son of God, unspotted from the world, and the blotting of her hair acknowledged the soil was upon her own head. The good news came to the tune of lament— “Repent! The dirt of the earth is in you, and on you! And the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!”
Mary was befallen by adulation; she had not pretense or fear of the resulting opposition. An alabaster jar, 12 expensive ounces, a year of wages poured out praise on the people’s King. This undignified worship cost the coffers, and for some, it was a smell of waste upon the rabbi’s feet. Judas maligned her. “Could not this have been sold?” He told, “and given to the poor?” while scheming silver beneath his breath. Such a bounty would filter through the pockets of the soon betrayer. The other disciples weren’t far behind, only they were blind by faithless fear, not greed. Temple tax, a lamb for Passover, supplies, new sandals, food, not to mention Jesus’ gracious nature to feed the masses.
“Leave her alone,” Jesus rebuked, “so she may keep it for the day of my burial.” The disciples, stunned, with jaw drop shock, comprehended not the message he relayed. The day was filled with life and laughter, why speak of death? Shrouded, his message was. “The poor you will always have…” he continued, “but you do not always have me.” Precious in the sight of God is the worship of His saints, where pride and pretense die and give birth to praise. Mary raised her head, then continued her reverence. This worship, a costly gift from a Judean girl to the King of the world. She had anointed the Prophet’s feet, his priestly beard, and crown of Israel’s King.
It would soon be Passover, and in few short days Jesus would stand on temple mount and shout, “Whoever believes… and keeps my word will be saved!” This made the Pharisees cringe. They couldn’t deny his miracles, but they would deny Him, and rebuke the praise of His people when He rode in by colt to the temple. Jesus' kingly claim not only riled Pharisee and Sadducee, but if Rome caught word, truth told, Jerusalem would be destroyed, and the nation with it. “Better for one man to die than a nation perish,” Caiaphas exclaimed. Thus, they carried out their scheme to destroy the people’s king, but make no mistake, all this according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.
Another disciple named Mary would fall at His feet twice more: Golgotha and garden, death and resurrection. First, the cross, on which the dirt of the world absorbed into His skin, his bones, his flesh; no tears nor oil could wash away that stain. Only blood. From thorn’d brow to striped back, pierced side, hands, and feet, an anointing spilled out and washed those who would, with her, fall at his feet. By His stripes we are healed; we were born because He bled. His blood, more precious than nard, cleansed us from the sod of sin upon our head.
Next, the garden, where empty tomb proclaimed victory over sin and death. At the feet of Jesus, let angels and man and woman prostrate fall. Ironic that the highest place of pride-filled man is at the feet of the poorest of earthly kings. A message, a gospel he brings from the Creator of the world.
This good news came to the tune of lament… repent. The dirt of the earth is in you, and on you. Unless you be anointed with blood, you too shall return to dust and be washed away from His presence. Repentance is the road to be reconciled to God. Forgiveness is not cheap; it always costs the party who was offended. But repentance is sweet for those who apprehend this: God chose to lay down His weapon of justice and upended man’s curse. He granted mercy for the offender— that’s you, and me, and everybody who would fall at His feet to praise the crucified King. Mary just got there first.
Will you remember Mary and follow her pattern. If you’ve beheld the glory of the greatest of Kings and find repentance is sweet, you too should fall and pour out costly praise, for his blood has anointed your head, your chest, your feet. The song begins with lament, but for those who seek Him, joyful is the refrain.
There is a fountain, filled with blood, flowing from Emanuel’s veins.
And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.
To this King we pour out our praise.
Hosanna. Lord Save us.
Come Lord Jesus.
--Music by Andrew Black, "Before and After"