One of the most beautiful stories in the Bible is the one about the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume and dried them with her hair. (Find it in John 12:3, Mark 14:3).
Her action was not just the usual hospitality afforded to a guest. It went way beyond that, and for a woman to do this, with her long hair unbound, was indeed quite shocking.
Jesus chastised the others for not washing his feet when he arrived for the meal. Who can tell – his hosts may or may not have done this eventually.
Meanwhile the woman’s tears fell onto his feet as she kissed them and poured out the very costly nard, wiping his feet with her hair. She had obviously planned to do this and had purchased the alabaster jar with its precious contents in order to honour Jesus. It was an act of anointing that presaged his death.
Nard or spikenard oil is distilled from a flowering plant native to the high mountains of what we now know as the Himalayas. It has a woody, spicy, musty smell and was used with other spices and oils not just so that everything would ‘smell nice’, but also for healing and in preparing bodies for burial.
Precious fragrances were used as incense offerings in the temple. Some churches still use incense as an offering. It’s not new. Even today, alternative therapies use spikenard oil for its known sedative and calming properties. One practitioner notes that it promotes a sense of hope and inner peace.
Nard was stored in a specially carved alabaster jar, sealed with wax and the only way to use it in Jesus’s time was to break the jar. This was a bit like the clay money boxes that have only one opening – you can put money into the box, but to get it out you need to smash the container. Sometimes these little clay money boxes are exquisitely made and it feels wrong to break them.
How badly do you want the contents?
When Mary was washing Jesus’s feet the others in the house would not only have seen and heard her weeping and honouring of Jesus, the entire house would have been filled with the beautiful aroma, affirming that this was a special gift and honour to God.
So what about our own ‘jar’ of precious nard, our gift of grace and love? Should we keep it sealed in its beautiful jar? We know that it was bought at a great price and given to us for free.
Surely it is meant to be shared?
We need to be bold and break that jar so that the fragrance may fill the air, bringing honour to God and joy to the senses of those who may breathe it.
We may well ask, as did the shepherds in the French Christmas carol:
‘What is that goodly fragrance that so delights our senses?’
Let us share it. Let us not keep our fragrance sealed up in a beautiful box.
Sheelagh Wegman is a freelance writer and editor. She is in the community of St David’s Cathedral in Hobart and lives in the foothills of kunanyi/Mt Wellington.
Sheelagh Wegman’s previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/sheelagh-wegman.html