February 2009 - Vol. 27

Mary of Bethany by Jeanne Kun, cont.

Mary’s deed shows us some beautiful truths: Love never calculates, but wants to give the utmost. Though prudence might caution that this gesture was an extravagant waste, love obeys the promptings of the heart. A gift is truly a gift when it is accompanied by sacrifice.

All the evangelists noted that the apostles were indignant at Mary’s extravagance. While their thought that the poor could have been better served by this money was well-intended (Matthew 26:8-9; Mark 14:4-5; John 12:4-5), their complaint against Mary shows that they missed the point of her symbolic action. Jesus himself interpreted Mary’s “beautiful” deed to them, explaining that the anointing was a preparation for his burial (Matthew 26:10, 12; Mark 14:6, 8). At Jesus’ birth the Magi had presented the gift of myrrh (Matthew 2:11) commonly used when wrapping a body in the burial shroud, which foreshadowed Jesus’ death. Now Jesus attached the same significance to Mary’s deed of anointing him with pure nard.

Mary’s gesture was spontaneous, probably done on the spur of the moment, yet it grew out of a long-practiced attentiveness to Jesus. The apostles had not understood when Jesus spoke directly to them about his impending passion (Luke 18:31-34). But perhaps Mary, with her fine sensitivity, sensed that he was troubled by the trials through which he was soon to pass and thus sought to comfort him with this loving favor. 

Little did Mary imagine as she knelt at the feet of Jesus, anointing them and wiping them with her hair, that her action would become famous and her name known for generations to come. Her sole thought was to show the Lord how much she loved him. Treasuring her love, Jesus honored Mary and promised that “wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her” (Matthew 26:13; Mark 14:9). In the spreading of the story of Mary’s beautiful deed throughout the whole world prefigured by the spreading of the sweet fragrance of the perfume throughout the house (John 12:3) Jesus’ prophecy has indeed been richly fulfilled:

Wherever in the world you may go, everyone respectfully listens to the story of her good service. . . . And yet hers was not an extraordinary deed, nor was she a distinguished person, nor was there a large audience, nor was the place one where she could easily be seen. She made no entrance onto a theater stage to perform her service but did her good deed in a private house. Nevertheless . . . today she is more illustrious than any king or queen; no passage of years has buried in oblivion this service she performed. (St. John Chrysostom, Adversus Iudaeos, V, 2)

Excerpted from My Lord and My God! A Scriptural Journey with the Followers of Jesus by Jeanne Kun (The Word Among Us Press, © 2004).  Used with permission.

This book can be ordered online at www.wau.org.


photo by Br. Gilbert Pretto

The Scene

Mark 14:3-9 
14:3 And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the jar and poured it over his head. 4 But there were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment thus wasted? 5 For this ointment might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and given to the poor.” And they reproached her. 6 But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7 For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you will, you can do good to them; but you will not always have me. 8 She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burying. 9 And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” 

See also Matthew 26:6-13; John 12:1-8

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