Sometimes a memory of a person comes back as a single part that is emblematic of the whole. A mother’s hands. A sister’s hair. A father’s strong arms.
For Mary, it was Jesus’ feet.
Whenever they gathered, the men crowded around, shoulder to shoulder, to exchange ideas, listen, debate. It was at such a time that Mary discovered the humble, unassuming space at the feet of Jesus.
There she was fully in his presence without drawing the ire of men. There she hung on his every word, looked into his eyes and soaked up the love she found there. When her hands rested on his feet or his knees she would notice the peace emanating from the core of his being.
For Mary, there was no place she would rather be…even when it was to the consternation of her sister Martha.
In the hours she spent there, Mary mastered Jesus’ feet. She knew the slender curve along his arch, the gentle bones that flexed with his toes as he spoke. And she knew the stories they told; he and his disciples walked miles every week, and his feet carried the wear and tear. Dust permeated their pores until his tanned, olive skin retained an orangey tint even after washing. His heels were cracked; the tops speckled with scars from obstacles encountered along the way.
Mary loved Jesus’ feet, perhaps because they were a reminder that he was fully human.
When Lazarus died and Jesus failed to come, Mary’s heart ached for the comfort of his presence. When at last he arrived, she once again was at his feet, this time brought down by her grief.
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Moved by her tears Jesus wept too. Oh, how she loved him.
Then, Jesus healed her brother, no, more than a healing, it was a miraculous resurrection. And she knew she needed to find some small expression of her inexpressible gratitude.
And that’s when she remembered his feet.
The idea consumed her for days. She knew it was something she was called to do. Gathering resources to purchase the nard seemed impossible at first. With the money she collected from Lazarus and a few of his closest friends, the merchant handed her a tiny jar; typically enough for the purpose, but not in this case.
So Mary shared her story and her heart. The merchant had heard the tale around town, but hadn’t believed it; he did now. And that’s when he decided to do something reckless; he took back the tiny jar from Mary’s hand and fetched a large alabaster jar, typically reserved for funerals, and filled it to the brim with nard, worth an entire year’s wages on the open market.
Though Mary’s arms ached from the weight of the jar as she carried it home, her heart was even fuller, as she reflected on God’s goodness and abundant provision.
The powerful fragrance announced her arrival so that all eyes were upon her as she entered. But once her eyes turned to Jesus the others faded away.
Solemnly she assumed her familiar position. Her love for Jesus poured out as oil on his scarred and weary feet. She massaged the oil into his skin and noticed that the dust finally cleared as the oil absorbed into his skin, filling the cracks and crevices along the way.
How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the Gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things.Romans 10:15
Tears poured down her cheeks, mixing with the oil, emulsifying over Jesus’ skin as Mary wiped his feet with her hair. How patiently and lovingly Jesus received her simple gift. Without speaking she felt heard and understood.
…Until Judas shattered the moment with his rage. Following the unmistakable aroma of nard with his nose, Judas leaned across the table until he was looking down at her, his eyes and accusations piercing her as he shrieked, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.”
Shame gathered like a wave, threatening to break over her, Mary folding in anticipation. She felt Jesus place a protective hand upon her shoulder, and quietly yet firmly rebuke the accusation, “Leave her alone. It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”
Mary wondered at his ominous words, sensing that Jesus had forces greater than Judas in mind.
Judas turned away, neither humbled nor apologetic to Jesus and his hosts for the disruption.
Mary completed her work, then sat still, basking in Jesus’ tender care. She knew Jesus’ presence alone was sufficient. And yet he had blessed her with so much more, his life-giving power, his perfect protection, and most of all, his unconditional love.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.2 Corinthians 4:7