Six days before Passover, Jesus gathered for a dinner with his disciples and others in Bethany. Lazarus, recently raised from death, was also at the table. After the food was prepared, Martha served the meal. But Mary suddenly interrupts the meal. She must have been planning for this moment, or maybe it was an impulsive act to show her gratitude for all Jesus had done for her and her family. We don’t know, but she was ready.
In an extravagant display of love and affection, taking no heed to all the men, she quietly and boldly approached the Master. No words were exchanged for He already knew her heart. Breaking open the alabaster vial, a pound of pure nard and very costly perfume, she began to anoint her Beloved. Kneeling and pouring the perfume on His feet, she began to worship Him before some critical and shocked observers. Oblivious to others, Mary focused on her Beloved while she continued to anoint Him. Tears surely coursed down her cheeks as the perfume soaked into Jesus’s feet as she washed them with her tears, wiping them with her hair.
As her simple act of love unfolded and the heavy fragrance saturated the environment, surely a holy silence momentarily filled the room like the sweet-smelling aroma. All conversation ceased and everyone stopped to stare at this open display of love. It seemed like a strange act, anointing Jesus while He was still alive. Women only anointed the dead in preparation for burial. Besides, it was not proper for a woman to touch another man in public. It seemed ill-timed and inappropriate to others at best--but for One. Some began to whisper and gossip about Mary’s improper display of affection and waste of such a costly item. Some suggested the perfume would have been put to better use by selling it and using the proceeds for the poor and the needy. Some of the men openly scolded and shamed her before all at such an outlandish act.
It was an exorbitant gift. We don’t know how she came about acquiring the perfume, but it was worth 300 denarii. During early Biblical times that translated into a small fortune. In other words, the nard perfume was worth a year’s salary. This was a tremendous sacrifice for anyone, no matter their income and station in life. Perhaps Mary had dipped into her life savings; maybe she used an inheritance account. Possibly she saved her wages for an entire year in preparation for this one moment. But by whatever means, and in whatever way she acquired the perfume, Mary came prepared that evening to offer a costly sacrifice of worship for her Beloved Savior.
Another follower of Jesus’s observed all that transpired that evening. Judas Iscariot acting indignant openly criticized her stating, “Why has this perfume been wasted? This perfume might have been sold and the money given to the poor.” While his comment sounded honorable and the cause noble, Judas’s true intent was discerned by only One. Judas said this not because he was concerned for the poor or even because he thought this was a waste of money. Judas was in charge of the money box and often pilfered from it for he was a thief. Perhaps he was thinking what he had lost for himself in her extravagant gift poured out for Jesus.
But rather than rebuke or condemn Mary, Jesus welcomed her display of affection and reproved the others instead. He knew His time on earth was short. He knew while one follower spent a fortune to worship Him, another would soon sell Him out for a mere pittance. He knew that betrayal would be costly in a different way. He knew, whether Mary even understood, He was soon to die. Jesus also discerned Judas’s heart. Looking around the table, then directly at Judas He said: “Let her alone; why do you bother her? She has done a good deed to Me. For you always have the poor…but you do not always have Me.” (Mark 14:6-7)
Shortly thereafter, scripture says Judas departed the gathering and went in search of the chief priests in order to betray Jesus to them. Perhaps he was embarrassed at the public rebuke he’d received; maybe his pride had been wounded before all. Possibly Judas was disappointed with Jesus, and his heart gave in to bitterness. Could revenge mixed with his greedy heart have led him to this despicable deed? For whatever reason Judas turned on Jesus with the intent to sell Him out. He now plotted and planned for his own display of “worship” of Jesus through betrayal. The religious leaders rejoiced when Judas came to them. They applauded his behavior, this clandestine encounter, his conniving and plotting. Judas asked them, “What are you willing to give me to deliver Him up to you?” In response they counted out thirty pieces of silver. From that moment on, with payment in hand, Judas showed his worship of Jesus by seeking how to further betray Him at an opportune time.
While the specific currency is not identified in scripture, many believe each coin was a denarius. Those thirty pieces of silver would be equivalent to about a month’s worth of wages. Judas betrayed Jesus for a cheap price.
A year’s salary sacrificed by Mary in extravagant worship. A month’s salary bartered by Judas for betrayal. Both deeds are recorded in God’s Word for all to read. One was costly; one was cheap. Both acts revealed the heart. Both acts revealed the price and extent both Mary and Judas would go to in order to show their true worship.
Love, real love and devotion, for our Savior is costly, like Mary’s example shows. But how quickly do we all sell Jesus out for the cheap things of this world, like Judas, when we seek our own way? How often do we let our pride or false expectations of what the Savior should do for us turn our hearts away from Him? Examine your hearts as Passover draws near and look closely: are you a Mary or are you easily swayed to become a Judas? Jesus gave His all for us. Can we do any less? Our worship is costly regardless.
Draw near to Me at this time and bow down in worship. Your love, adoration, tears, and sacrifice heal My heart afresh. When so many turn their backs on Me in disappointment with their expectations or sell Me out with their betrayal to follow the vices of this world, your devotion touches My heart. It is a healing balm. Yes, your worship is costly; but you bring delight to My soul. You are indeed My Beloved one.
“Mary then took a pound of very costly perfume of pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair…” (John 12: 3)
“Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD...” (Ps. 95:6)