Then Mary took about a pintof pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” [John 12:3-5]
I just got the real picture of Mary and the nard (spikenard oil) and Jesus’s feet. In the past, while reading this passage and other similar ones about a woman who washed or anointed Jesus and then used her hair afterwards, I imagined her holding her long strands of hair to wipe like a cloth. But now I see differently. It’s more like nuzzling. I wish I could explain more clearly what I see in my head, this women kissing, embracing, stroking and pressing her head to Jesus’s feet (or head or hands or mantel); holding him close to her face, her lips, her hair. I think about my own ways of holding close my kids or my pets. I put them right up to my face and hair, cheek to cheek, head to head. It’s intimate, it’s loving, it’s tender.
Essentially, I don’t believe this act was about washing or cleansing. Instead, it was purely a demonstrative act of love. And I suppose it could be called a humble act but love, but then, in its purest form, isn’t love humble anyway. At least it should be.
Judas’s response is more dramatic in hindsight. After all, we know now, he was the betrayer. But, in that moment, his reaction told a different story: he revealed his inability to recognize love. Following Jesus was never about love, it was about freedom. He must have been a “reasoning” man: perhaps even calculating. His passion was the overthrow of the Romans, the victory of the long-awaited Messiah who would bring Israel back to its former glory. For him, Mary’s act was, at best, sentimental and certainly a waste of resources. He was pragmatic and eventually (sooner than later), this led him to choose unwisely, to “move things along,” to force Jesus’s hand (without knowing what that would really look like). Judas did not expect his rabbi to be crucified. Instead, he expected an uprising of great proportions, a revolution. But he never understood the real revolution was in the heart.
Mary’s heart was already set free. She loved Jesus with abandon.