“Would you like to try a new fragrance?” I asked, smiling brightly, holding the glass bottle in my hand. Ignoring me, the women kept walking and talking. I looked at my watch again and sighed. Would 4:00 never come?
As a college student, I worked part-time selling women’s fragrances in a major department store. On weekends, I would walk the aisles in Cosmetics, hoping to sell some bottles of perfume. Of course, most people avoided me, but some of them actually stopped, tried it, and bought it. Jubilant, I'd tell them I hoped they would enjoy using their new fragrance.
There was once a woman who owned a fragrance she had never used. She didn’t dare spritz herself with it. Very expensive, it was for a special occasion only.
In Mark chapter 14 of the Bible, that special occasion arrived in the form of a dinner party. The woman wasn’t invited but she came anyway, her jar of perfume in her hands. She came seeking the guest of honor, Jesus.
I wonder if, when she approached Jesus, she said anything to him, if she whispered his name. I wonder if she looked into his eyes or if, in humility, she could not lift her face to his. We don’t know, but we do know that he was precious to her. More precious than the treasure she held in her hands.
Anointing someone’s head with oil or perfume was common during banquets in Bible times. It was a way to show honor, and this woman wanted to honor him. So she took her alabaster jar and broke it. Instead of dabbing the fragrance on Jesus, she poured it out over his head. The entire jar.
As the oil flowed down his hair, the scent of it filled the room. It didn’t smell like flowers or gardens. It was most likely spikenard, which smelled strong—a combination of sweet/spicy/musky notes that came together in an earthy, organic scent. Derived from a plant that grows in the Himalayas, spikenard was hard to obtain and therefore costly.
She didn’t know his death was just days away, but I believe she knew who he was and she loved him. Her gift foreshadowed the ultimate sacrifice he would soon make. It was reverent, radical, and right, a gift fit for a King. The scent would have lingered in his hair, perhaps even until the crown of thorns was placed there.
The intimacy of the act and the fragrance in their nostrils made the others uncomfortable, maybe even angry. Is she crazy? Why did she do that? Who let her in anyway? After all, they pointed out, the perfume could have been sold for a handsome price and the money given to the poor.
But Jesus defended her: she did a beautiful thing for him. The poor weren’t going anywhere, so the people could tend to them later. But Jesus' time was short, and he wanted them to focus on him now.
He knew that very soon he’d be going to the cross. Very soon, his blood would be poured out in an extravagant act of love that's hard to comprehend: his life in exchange for the sins of the world.
Why did he do that? He did it for the woman and for those dinner guests. He did it for me. And for anyone who comes to him looking for forgiveness, for life, for love that never dies.
Is this story new to you? Does the woman's gift make sense to you? What do you think of Jesus' sacrifice? I'd love to know. Leave me a comment, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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