Six days before Passover Jesus came to Bethany,
where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.
They gave a dinner for Him there, and Martha served,
while Lazarus was one of those reclining at table with Him.
Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil
made from genuine aromatic nard
and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair;
the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.
Then Judas the Iscariot, one of His disciples,
and the one who would betray Him, said,
"Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days' wages
and given to the poor?"
He said this not because he cared about the poor
but because he was a thief and held the money bag
and used to steal the contributions.
So Jesus said, "Leave her alone.
Let her keep this for the day of my burial.
You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me."
The large crowd of the Jews found out that He was there and came,
not only because of Him, but also to see Lazarus,
whom He had raised from the dead.
And the chief priests plotted to kill Lazarus too,
because many of the Jews were turning away
and believing in Jesus because of him.
The oil Mary used to anoint Jesus is significant, which is why the Scripture explicitly names it: nard or spikenard. It is a small blue flower that really does not have much of a scent until it is crushed. When it is crushed, the essential oils from the spikenard plant release a very fragrant, incense like perfume which is prized for its medicinal qualities and used in worship.
In this Gospel, Mary placed herself at the feet of Jesus, crushed as it were, by her desire to worship and love Him. In her worship, the perfume of her virtue is released, causing jealousy in the heart of Judas who tries to shame her into distraction from her focus on Jesus, but Jesus defends her. Like the spikenard, with which she anoints Him, Mary’s offering is beautiful and appreciated by Jesus. She is told to keep the oil for His burial, hinting that she would be one of the few to remain faithful to Jesus throughout His coming sufferings, whereas Judas would forget His Rabbi. Mary worshiped God first, and was strengthened in fidelity. Judas was focused on his responsibility with the money bag and lost sight of his relationship with God; worship would have helped him to remain steadfast.
May we look at our own lives and ask ourselves the challenging question: Is our first priority our relationship with God or all the things we think we are doing in His name? Perhaps today we can reflect on where our focus lies, for if our hearts are rooted in Christ, all that we do will be, “filled with the fragrance of the oil” of our worship.