Jesus, Mary and Martha are together once again in Bethany. And this time there’s an altogether different atmosphere:
Please read John 12:1-7
Jesus may well have found stability and security in the friendship and hospitality of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. These were people he was able to be himself with. Amidst all the crowds, the demands and the ever-increasing threats, what a precious gift that must have been. And how valuable such people and places are to us too. Those special friends with whom we can simply be. Those places to which we can go in order to be ourself. Life is the poorer without them.
Who are your special people? Where are your special places?
Not long before this occasion, Jesus had raised Lazarus, Martha and Mary’s beloved brother, from the dead (John 11). So, this is a meal of celebration and how different it is from the last occasion we considered. This time, Martha’s serving springs out of a heart full of love and gratitude. The atmosphere is so full of joy and thanksgiving that it seemed right and natural for Mary to fetch her most precious possession, a box of spikenard (sometimes called nard) ointment, which she poured over the feet of Jesus as the greatest gift she can give.
But how did Jesus feel about this extravagant act? Wasn’t it just a tiny bit embarrassing? ‘Oh, Mary, you shouldn’t have.’ Couldn’t he have asked her to stop – or even agreed with Judas that it was a waste of good perfume? But, of course, he knew the significance of it – even if Mary didn’t.
The fragrance of the perfume permeates the whole house: its scent reaching through the light and airy parts and on in to the darker, hidden corners. This is in itself symbolic and representative of the spreading of the story of Christ. The scent of this most precious possession being the Gospel message of hope and salvation for all. The house representing the world. The guests representing the people of all the nations. The fragrance symbolising the story of Christ, saviour, priest and king, affecting everyone it touches.
At a deeper, personal level, it is symbolically representative of God’s love, reaching and filling our lives. His love permeating not only the light and airy bits – the good and pleasant parts of who we are – but also the darker, hidden corners, the bits others never see, the parts even we ourselves avoid looking at.
Whether pleasant or unpleasant, a smell often lingers in the air long after the source of it has disappeared. A smell can so attach itself to us that we can go to a different place and other people will smell it. Drawing a parallel between the Gospel message and our own Christian witness, other people will experience that which the fragrance symbolises and represents.
Or as Bishop Tom Wright once put it, it can be, ‘worth taking a minute…to reflect on what smell we’re giving off.’
In what ways is your life spreading the fragrance of the love of God to other people?
What can you learn from your past which opens up the future?