On Monday of Holy Week we read about the anointing of Jesus while He was in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper. This narrative is found in Mark 14:3-9 or in John 12:1-11.
While Jesus sat at table eating a woman, identified in John’s Gospel as Mary (not the Mother of our Lord) “came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over His head.” (Mar 14:3) The oil Mary used was an expensive aromatic essential oil. To achieve the level of purity noted in the reading it would have taken a great deal of time distilling the oil from flowering plants. But Mary “broke the jar open” and literally drenched Jesus with this fragrant oil. Then she knelt down and anointed and rubbed the oil into His feet with her hair.
The people in the room saw this and were very upset with what seemed to them as wasting expensive oil. Jesus replied to them saying, “Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me… She has … anointed my body beforehand for burying.” (Mar 14:6-8)
Jesus’ strongly defends Mary’s actions. Then He called attention to the growing aroma of this oil that was filling the house. He linked the fragrance of the oil to the ‘sweet fragrance’ of His costly sacrifice that He will begin in the Upper Room and consummate at 3:00 pm on Good Friday. In His offering of Himself on the Cross our Lord takes us by the hand and leads us through the sacred triduum to atone and heal our soul with His sacred flesh and blood in order to become the “aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.” (2 Cor 2:15-16).
Mary gave her very best. Jesus gave His very best. Both are acts of pure love and both involved a “labor” intensive process. Mary and Jesus call us to give in the same way. But for us to get to where we are freely giving involves for many intensive spiritual labor on our part. To love without strings attached is not easy to do. To love in spite of pain is hard. But when we are able to act from a heart purified by the Holy Spirit, a heart that has been graced with the Easter love of God, we find ourselves becoming the ointment and “light” that Isaiah spoke about. We are God’s servants to the nations.