3-10-16 - Anointing

When Mary of Bethany poured a full jar of expensive oil of nard all over Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair, she wasn’t just trying to relax him with a little aromatherapy. She was anointing him, while she still could, guessing that his time on earth was short. Nard, an essential oil derived from spikenard, a flowering plant in the Valerian family (thanks,Wikipedia…) had many uses, though except for a reference in the Iliad to its use in perfuming a body, it does not appear to have had funerary use. The spices brought after Jesus’ crucifixion were a mixture of myrrh and aloes.

But Jesus answers Mary’s critics with this cryptic observation: ‘Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.’

There are many kinds of anointing in the Bible – anointing of priests and prophets, of kings and kings-to-be; anointing for healing; the hint of anointing in baptism; and the anointing of the Holy Spirit. This act of Mary’s doesn’t fit any of the categories. And if she bought the oil for Jesus’ burial, why does she use it all now?

Knowing the danger he was him, perhaps she wanted him to feel in a tactile way the love of those who surrounded him. Perhaps she had a sense of the horrors ahead, and wanted him to have one moment of pampering. Perhaps she wanted to show the others how to give it all. Perhaps she thought the day of his burial would be too late to do him any good.

And six days later, Jesus will be washing the feet of his disciples, to their shock and horror. He will let them know in a tactile way what love feels like, the love of one who lays aside his power and prerogatives for the beloved. They don’t really understand then, any more than they likely understood Mary’s gesture. But later they would.

Who in our lives needs to feel our love in that way? Who needs us to relinquish power or privilege and give of our time, our gifts, our pride? Maybe someone to whom we are close; maybe someone we don’t know at all.

Feet are intimate, way too much so for many people; some churches wash hands instead of feet on Maundy Thursday, which breaks my heart a little. Intimacy is the point. Being met at the place of our least attractive feature is the point. Being pampered and loved – and yes, anointed – is how God makes effective saints out of ordinary people. All it requires is submitting to love. Even Jesus did that.

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