The uproar of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead proved to be the last straw. Those wanting to kill Jesus rallied with fierce determination. The religious leaders were in Jerusalem a few miles away plotting his downfall. Jesus was reclining at the table, at the home of Simon the leper, with his disciples. No doubt, the atmosphere was somber. Days earlier Jesus explained what lay ahead for him, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.” (Mark 10:33-35)
The disciples didn’t quite get it, baffled by what he was saying. Instead of truly hearing him, they jockeyed around about who would sit next to him in the kingdom of heaven. As the atmosphere was shrouded in heaviness, Jesus’ betrayer sat just a few feet away while his disciples were aloof to the intense weight he was carrying. Jesus was on the precipice of the darkest hours in all of history and he was facing it seemingly alone.
Mary (of Bethany) entered the room of men carrying with her an alabaster jar filled with expensive ointment, ointment that would have been worth a year’s wages. Mary had matured as a disciple. Crisis tested her faith as she wrestled through deep pain, mourning and disappointment. What she learned in the classroom was tested in the trials of life. She grappled questions of his goodness, his faithfulness and even his love. She struggled with HIM. Ultimately, she came to the place of believing God in the midst of her crisis. Her suffering deepened her understanding of Jesus, strengthening her trust in him.
She knew exactly what she was doing when she walked in the room that night. She understood what no one else seemed to understand. She saw what no one else seemed to see. Jesus was not alone in his darkest moment. Mary, his disciple, was walking alongside him, preparing him, encouraging him and strengthening his heart.
She would prepare him for the brutal road that lay ahead, preparing his body for burial. Mary broke the jar and poured its’ contents on Jesus, anointing his body. The fragrance filled the room, gaining the attention of the other guests. She let down her hair and began to gently wipe Jesus’ feet, covered in perfume.
As the room likely began to fidget, Judas brought accusations against Mary’s actions, questioning her stewardship of the expensive perfume. Mary knew the one worthy to be lavished with her sacrificial praise, pouring out her love and worship from the deepest places in her heart.
“The deep theology Mary learned from Jesus had been pounded into her heart in the darkest hour of her life, when her brother lay dying and there was still no sign of Jesus. She had seen him in a new light through that excruciating disappointment. What she learned changed everything, including her. Jesus was no longer just a miracle worker to Mary. She now knew that he was Lord of life and of death, that he was, in fact, God in the flesh. He had shown her that he would not be governed by her expectations and opinions. She had wrestled with his character and learned that no matter what happened, how dark things looked, or how depressed she felt, the soundest and safest course of action was to trust him.”
She trusted him. She trusted His word and listened to the gospel he proclaimed. Mary’s actions that night came from her deep understanding of all that Jesus had taught her. Of all the disciples, she was the only one in that moment that truly understood his mission. By anointing his body for burial, Mary was the first of his disciples to proclaim the gospel- that Jesus had indeed come “to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)
As Jesus defended Mary, he said, “Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.” (Matthew 26:13)
Scripture references: John 12:1-7, Matthew 26:6-13
 Carolyn Custis James