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. John 12:3
Some of y’all have a hard time with feet. I don’t know why, and I do. I mean, yes, feet are probably not the most normal body part we have; they see a lot of tough conditions; they’re utilitarian but not gonna win any beauty contest. They get crammed into socks/shoes, sweat and stink. They put on sandals and get dusty and crusty. They can go horribly wrong: corns, warts, fungus, hammer toes, bone spurs, jacked up nails, rough soles, grocery-store feet, jungle rot, etc. For instance, my pinky toe-nail had a scraggily fungus on it from my earliest memory, until my mom got me the nastiest liquid medicine I’ve ever tasted; it’s name was pronounced “grif-ful-vin” and it was hideous. I also have magnificent finger-toes that are pretty freaky to the other average human. What I’m saying is, I can see where some of you hate feet. If a person tells you “You smell like feet,” it’s not nice. I was going to include an image here, but it’s not worth it — do a Google image search on “bad feet” if you’re not faint of heart.
Conversely, foot care is vitally important, and I think can be terribly nurturing. The products and special shoes out there are insane. Everything from steel-toes to marathoners’ ultralight knitted Nikes to Vibrams; inserts and soles, “gellin'” and blister care. Because feet can go so bad, I think we do well to pamper them. But, then, the real pampering comes in the form of pedicure. Men and women, have you had one? I can stoutly say that I’ve never had one salon-style, but my excellent wife has on maybe two occasions given me what constituted a basic pedicure. She just felt like it, what can I say? So there are all these washes and lotions and clothes/brushes, and nail utensils, etc. I’m philosophically opposed to such a thing because I like to keep my feet tough, what for hiking and being barefoot, but it was a nice experience. And the kicker is that every bit of it is done by hand. My wife had to get all up in the wilderness that is my feet. Could there have been an infected hang-nail she didn’t know about, or extraordinary amounts of toe-jam? Maybe. But she went for it anyway.
With Maundy Thursday we think about foot-washing sometimes, and the same is true there. You can see how foot-washing is a servant’s task, especially for those sandal-wearers back then. Maybe you can see how strange but powerful it was for Jesus to wash his disciples’ tootsies. You gotta get on hands and knees to do it, and get all up in the business.
This is the backdrop to Mary’s deed, too, in John 12. And she didn’t just wash Jesus’ feet, she anointed them. And used her own hair. A deed of total devotion. There were multiple sides to her sacrifice: the financial value of the nard, and probably the rarity of even coming by it; her time and energy; her personal comfort; her pride. These were all put “at Jesus’ feet.” I like what she did because of the kind of nonsensical nature of it. Judas protests, and some of us would wonder at it too if we were there, because here they are having just had a normal dinner and *boom* she just does this. It’s an ordinary night together, they didn’t know what the near future held for Jesus, and Mary had no logical reason for the act. Except her deep and living love for the man at the table. We, just like those present, could conjecture at what her deed might have “meant,” but ultimately she had an opportunity to do for Jesus something with deep, personal meaning/sacrifice, and she chose it.
It was a special moment. Remember, smell is the sense that we most associate with memory. Smells can take us to other places, people, and times. Smell can sum up powerful things — “That smells like home”…”That is the smell of my mother”…”That’s what Spring smells like.” So I bet that for the rest of their lives, those who had been present could smell something like that perfume and be transported back to the home of Mary and Martha in Bethany, at table with the recently-resurrected Lazarus, and the Messiah who had done it. This moment, before the ruckus of Jerusalem and crucifixion and the empty tomb, was saturated in the aroma of Mary’s action. No wonder, like Jesus predicted (Matt. 26:13), this moment will always be a part of his Gospel, wherever it is found in the world.
Today, there are simple and personal acts of devotion that are in your power to do on behalf of Jesus. They might look foolish or stupid to onlookers, or seem like such small sacrifice that they’re not worth doing. But none of us knows what will be remembered, and by whom, and how. We’re not really invited to be concerned for that, anyway; I think we’re invited to live in the moment where Christ Jesus is present and hold nothing back. Even if it involves feet.
Later, it all seemed to take on more significance, like Jesus hinted at in terms of his coming burial. Looking back after the resurrection, the Gospel-writers and disciples might’ve seen the prophetic at work in Mary.