Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honour. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 3 Then Mary took about a pint of 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. (John 12:1-3)
In this chapter, we see Mary as a picture of the fullness of the life of discipleship. Her act of washing Jesus’ feet shows the love that is the hallmark of discipleship in John’s Gospel. Mary’s act of washing Jesus’ feet anticipates Jesus washing the disciples’ feet in the next chapter. Mary pours out a perfume that is worth a year’s wages. We know that Lazarus, Martha and Mary are not rich for its Martha that is serving the food as they have no servant. The perfume is a major expenditure, a major financial sacrifice. Mary wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair, this is significant since well-kept hair contributed to a person’s dignity in the ancient world. Women took pride in long hair, which was considered attractive, and damage to one’s hair was considered degrading. Mary in this act shows her love for Jesus, not only in acting as a servant in washing his feet but also she makes a major financial sacrifice and sacrifices her appearance and status in the eyes of the world.
Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. (John 12:7)
Mary has used that perfume that was intended for Jesus’ burial, here again, is an anticipation of what is to come. It is Mary that has understood where Jesus was going and what was about to happen. The 12 Apostles still did not understand what was going to happen to Jesus, Peter, Jesus’ closest disciple did not understand what Jesus had been teaching and explaining to them. He did not realise that Jesus had to go to Jerusalem and to die on the cross.
The power of the witness of Mary’s discipleship in this story is that she knows how to respond to Jesus without being told. She fulfils Jesus’ love commandment, by washing his feet, before he even teaches it to his disciples. She embraces Jesus’ departure at his hour before any of his disciples understand what Jesus had been telling them.
Mary is the first follower of Jesus that really gets what being a follower of Jesus really means, a great example to us all.
A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another. (John 13:34)