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A Fragrant Faithfulness
by Dan Kidd
As the aroma of the nard, wooden and spicy, began to overtake the lingering scents of their dinner, their attentions turned to Mary, knelt before Jesus, pouring the dark, amber oil, glistening burnt tones dancing in the candlelight, onto his feet; anointing him, with hands and hair. The fragrance poured through the air, from wall to wall; from nose to throat to lung. A whole pint worth, a whole year's wages worth, in a single act of worship. And honor. Devotion and thanksgiving.
That evening Mary saw a unique opportunity to honor King Jesus and she took it.
But Judas had no patience for this. He's been the treasurer of this band and he knew the market value of this perfume. Wouldn't such value be better used elsewhere? For the widows and orphans maybe? We know Judas's motives; they're laid bare by John, dark and ugly. The figurative hole in the money pouch isn't the only problem here. It's also that his indignation is nothing more than a performance. Even if he hadn't been looting the coffers, Judas's objection to Mary is wrongheaded.
But how is that true? Isn't pure and faultless religion about looking after orphans and widows in their distress? James seems to think so. (Jas. 1:27) Judas seems right here. But motive matters. My guess is that John exposes Judas's thievery here not only to suggest Judas would have liked his cut of the hawked nard, but to show us that if Judas was genuinely concerned with the whole Kingdom project (including looking after the widows and orphans), he wouldn't have been pocketing money meant for them in the first place. What's more, if he'd really been committed to the mission of the Kingdom, he would have been next in line to bless the King.
In his letter to the Ephesian church, Paul instructs them to "Serve wholeheartedly, as if [they] were serving the Lord, not people." This notion is at the center of today's passage. Of course there is service to be done for our neighbors. The world needs our love for them. The world needs us to care for them the way that Jesus cared for them. But if we don't begin with our devotion to, and worship of, the Lord, we're bound to veer into the lanes of performance and self-righteousness. When we forget that God is the source of all that is good and right and restorative, we too soon run too empty to bless anyone. Mary knew the importance of kneeling at the feet of Jesus, acknowledging and blessing his kingship, as irreplaceable and primary to discipleship. Let us know that too.
In imitation of Mary, we pray: Jesus, you are King. We bless your beautiful name because you are worthy of our worship and devotions. You alone make the difference. You are the living water that brings dead things back. Draw us back, even now, to you. Show me, Holy Spirit, what I might hand over to you, what I might offer into your hands, lay at your feet. What I have, every bit of it, is yours. Make me your offering today.