Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.
What strikes you most about this scene from John’s Gospel? Is it that the host was dead just a few days earlier? That the miracle worker who commanded Lazarus from the tomb is among the guests? That there is a woman kneeling before Jesus, anointing his feet with expensive perfume and then drying them with her hair? It may not be the Gospels’ most memorable dinner party (that will come a few days later), but it’s certainly the oddest.
Yet it is not the visuals of this gathering that stay with me. It’s the redolence—the fragrance of the perfume that I wish I could smell. Verse 3 tells us that the bouquet from the ointment filled the house. Imagine the gratitude this must have instilled in those attending, given the host’s lingering Eau De Tomb. (I just cracked myself up with that one!)
Midrash Rabbah on Ecclesiastes 7: 1 comments: “The fragrance of a good perfume spreads from the bedroom to the dining room; so does a good name spread from one end of the world to the other.” The notion—that a good deed carries a fragrance—got me to thinking this Monday of Holy Week. What good deed will you perform this week in preparation for the Easter Triduum—and how will it smell? If you pray for all of those on the frontlines of Covid-19 care, will the clove-like smell of lilies enhalo your head? If you thank those risking their health by showing up for work at our groceries and pharmacies, will lavender fill the air? Will prayers for those you know to be infected bring forth an aroma of baking bread?
Just between you and me: In the event that prayer and intention alone don’t produce the desired olfactories, I plan to game the process by spritzing myself and every room of our house with my costliest perfume. I believe this will lift my spirits and renew our dulled senses. For some reason we always save our expensive candles and perfumes for special occasions. Well, if ever there was a time to walk out of our tombs of quarantine, this is it.
Stay spritzy, my friends!
May the fragrance of Jesus and the aroma of his merciful grace penetrate this fragile jar of clay that I am. Amen.
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