“Mary picked up an alabaster jar filled with nearly a liter of extremely rare and costly perfume—the purest extract of nard, and she anointed Jesus’ feet. Then she wiped them dry with her long hair. And the fragrance of the costly oil filled the house. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.” John 12:3-5, 7 TPT & RSV
Nard was associated with palaces and kings. It’s value could be equal to a year’s pay. Made from the root of the Nardostachy Jatamansi plant, it is found in the Himalaya mountains. One did not lightly use nard, especially pure nard. One would never waste it.
Yet, just days before Jesus was crucified, his friend Mary, wanting to express her love for him, took pure nard and washed Jesus’ feet with it. Then she wiped his feet with her hair. The gospel writer tells us that the fragrance filled the house. I’ve been thinking of how that fragrance must have lingered in and around Jesus as it was worked into the pores of his skin. It lingered in the Bethany home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, penetrating floors and walls. Its scent filled the room with expectation and hope.
Essence of nard lingered through the celebration of the Passover Feast. At the household of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, that lingering fragrance had settled into their home. Forever after, the smell of nard would bring back memories of Holy Week. It would touch on broken hopes and dreams. They would remember how Jesus knew all along that Mary’s gift was to prepare him for burial. They would call to mind how confused each of them felt at his words, while even then they were making plans for a triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
Along with memories ripe with pain and loss, would be that astonishing turnaround just days later. Mingled into the scent of fragrant nard, were gut wrenching grief and resurrection joy. Mary’s gift of nard stands as a symbol that there is a place in God’s love for both extravagant generosity and generous humility. For out of that same extravagant generosity and generous humility, Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem and everything that waited for him there. All of it a gift of love.