In John 12:1-8, Mary of Bethany and Jesus are looking ahead to his death and burial, which would happen a week later.
Mary of Bethany anointed his feet with perfume. Anointing with perfume oil was common practice for burials during the time of Jesus. They didn’t do embalming and cremation like we do today. The body decomposed naturally. Anointing the body of a deceased person was part of the ritual after death to honor and show respect to the person who had passed away (not to mention help cover the smell of a decomposing body).
How do you show honor and respect to your loved ones and friends who pass?
I find the ministry with those who are dying and have died to perhaps be the most important ministry I do as a pastor. The death of our church members often touches us in a very personal, intimate way.
After Mary of Bethany anointed the feet of Jesus, she then wiped them with her hair—this is very intimate, very personal, even very sensuous. We all hunger for intimacy, and we know a lack of intimacy leads to loneliness. The experience of dying and death is often profoundly intimate and personal. And when a person is dying, they are vulnerable. Intimacy and vulnerability are essential for compassionate love during the experience of dying and death.
Mary anointing the feet of Jesus with perfume by using her hair reveals this intimacy and vulnerability that they both experienced. Mary showed Jesus how much she loved him.
Immediately after Mary anoints Jesus with the costly perfume, he will enter the city of Jerusalem. So Jesus has this intimate and vulnerable experience of compassionate love from Mary just before he shows his own extravagant love by washing the feet of his disciples, sharing his last meal with them, and sacrificing himself on the cross.
At Fairfield Glade Community Church, we open ourselves to one another with an intimacy and vulnerability that is essential to sharing compassionate love in the face of death. May way we continue to care for each other and support each other as Mary and Jesus have shown us.