Wednesday of Easter Week – Arrest My Senses

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 (I’ve included the primary Scripture reference for this meditation at the end of the post.)

The first several days of the first Easter week were filled with tension and anger from Jesus’ opponents and unflinching resolve from Jesus. He had been on the move, juggling His time between Bethany, Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives.

Words had been His currency, and He had spent piles of them opposing the self-righteous and preparing His disciples for what He had been telling them about for a while now: “that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (Mt 16:21) How confusing this must have been for them.

But by the time Wednesday rolled around, Jesus was still. He went to the home of Simon the Leper, a man known for what was wrong with him. They shared a meal together and afterward settled in for a time of conversation.

As they sat, a woman with an alabaster flask approached Jesus. Though Matthew doesn’t tell us her name, we not only know who she was, we know a little something about that flask too. John tells us this was Mary of Bethany, Lazarus’ sister, (Jn 12:3) and suggests she had been saving this perfume, which was worth a full year’s wages, for this very occasion. (Jn 12:7)

She began to pour the perfume on Jesus’ head and feet, which Mark tells us she did by breaking open its container. (Mk 14:3) With this fracture, there was no turning back. Breaking open that alabaster flask was like popping the cork on a $20,000 bottle of champagne. She was not acting on a whim. She offered Jesus everything she had.

What drove her? She somehow sensed that what He was about to give was for her. The perfume was a response to what He was in the process of giving to her.

The disciples reacted like many men often do. They considered the value of her perfume and regarded her actions as though she might as well have been burning a year’s wages in a bread oven. But they dressed their indignation up in the noble auspices of concern for the poor: Think of the poor people who could have benefited from the sale of this perfume. (cf. Mt 26:8-9)

But this is not how her actions hit Jesus. He comes to her aid. What she is doing, He tells them, is beautiful.

Appreciate the doctrinal principle here. Though the perfume could have been sold for a year’s wages, what is perfume for? Is it merely a commodity Mary should have held on to in the event that she needed to cash it in? Is this how God would expect her to regard this valuable resource?

Apparently not. Perfume is meant to be poured out and released into the air until it is gone in order that it might fill a room with its beautiful and startling aroma. So Mary breaks open the jar and the scent electrifies the senses of everyone present, and Jesus says it is beautiful.

Everything in creation testifies to a Creator who delights in beauty for beauty’s sake. So many things that are beautiful didn’t need to be. And it was God elected to make them that way. He opted to make autumn a season saturated with bold, changing color. He didn’t have to make the setting sun the spectacle that it is. But He did.

Why?

One reason must be because beauty pleases Him. And another must be in order to arrest people by their senses when they’re otherwise just plodding along, heads down, learning to live within the economy of pragmatism.

What Mary did was beautiful and Jesus wanted His disciples to know it.She was preparing Him for burial. Jesus sees a great kindness and honor in her gesture. So He returns the honor by saying history will never forget her act of beauty.

And as it is, this act of gratitude has been recorded in over 150 languages around the world for over 20 centuries.

J.C. Ryle wrote, “The speeches of parliamentary orators, the exploits of warriors, the works of poets and painters, will not be mentioned on that day [of God’s coming Kingdom]; but the least work that the weakest Christian has done for Christ, or His members, will be found written in a book of everlasting remembrance.”

By the Wednesday of the first Easter week, Jesus is placing everything in the context of His pending death. Here in this intimate setting with dear friends—with all their quirks and flaws and reputations—the scent of redemption fills the room.


Matthew 26:6-16

6Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, 7a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table.8And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? 9For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.”

10But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. 11For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.12In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. 13Truly, 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.”

14Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver.16And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.

Russ Ramsey and his wife and four children make their home in Nashville, Tennessee. He is a pastor at Christ Presbyterian Church and the author of Struck: One Christian’s Reflections on Encountering Death (IVP, 2017), Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative (Rabbit Room Press, 2011) and Behold the King of Glory: A Narrative of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ (Crossway, 2015). He is a graduate of Taylor University (1991) and Covenant Theological Seminary (MDiv – 2000, ThM – 2003).

Follow Russ on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram.


12 Comments

  1. Jazz

    That, is really cool. Just to think that Jesus likes perfume. I thought perfume was just a girl thing.
    I find it interesting that is was Judas that spoke against Mary. I mean, he was the one that betrayed Jesus.

  2. LauraP

    Russ Ramsey, you are a blessing. Thank you for sharing this

    “Perfume is meant to be poured out and released into the air until it is gone in order that it might fill a room with its beautiful and startling aroma.”

    I suspect Mary never regretted cracking open that flask and using that perfume for its intended purpose, regardless of who thought it was extravagant or impractical.

  3. LauraP

    I should clarify that previous comment a bit. I suspect even if history had forgotten her gesture, she would have had no regrets.

  4. Loren

    I’ve always thought perfume to be too overpowering, but then I read this description (not to mention the Bible’s own description) and the description of the lilies at the end of C. S. Lewis’ _The Voyage of the Dawn Treader_ and I realize the beauty of it. I love the comparison of this perfume to the colors of autumn or a sunset and that while God didn’t have to create these, He did. Why? you ask. Because “One reason must be because beauty pleases Him. And another must be in order to arrest people by their senses when they’re otherwise just plodding along, heads down, learning to live within the economy of pragmatism.”

    …And to think that the beauty of the new heaven and new earth will so outshine any of these earthly beauties!

  5. Alyssa

    Thank you for your insights in this post and your Easter Week in Real Time post. Your words have engaged my imagination where Holy Week is concerned in a more vivid way than ever before. They’ve yanked me out of my plodding pragmatism and set before me the most sublime of sights and sounds and smells. I guess that’s not so different from what Mary did, eh?

  6. JesseD

    It’s fascinating to me that Mark seems to imply that Mary’s act and Jesus’ response were the impetus for Judas’ betrayal. “From that moment on,” it says, “he sought an opportunity to betray him.” Why was this such a lightning rod for Judas?

    I can’t say I wouldn’t respond in a strongly negative way, either. I have the same tendency as a lot of people to look at the way churches and individuals spend money and think that they could use their money or resources in better ways that will benefit others. I think Judas was so wrapped up in the material world (we learn elsewhere he was dipping into the communal funds for his own purposes) that he couldn’t see the spiritual worth behind Mary’s act. I think we all need to realize the spiritual worth of our material resources; they don’t exist as economic resources alone, but are in every way spiritual as well. A church spending lavishly on decorating a sanctuary is not wasting money better spent on missions if they make that sanctuary a place that conveys the majesty and holiness of God to those who worship there. A person who spends a fortune on climbing Mt. Everest does not waste money better given to the homeless, if by experiencing the climb they are deepened in their experience of God and His creation.

    May we avoid the Judas reaction when we see what are to our eyes extravagances.

  7. Russ Ramsey

    @russramsey

    Jesse, great thoughts. When I think of Judas, I imagine this episode with the perfume wasn’t so much an impetus as it was a last straw. I think he had been smoldering for quite some time. I imagine he was of that same personality we all have in us– the constant assessor and evaluator. I imagine he had an opinion about everything that happened around him, and I imagine most were less than favorable, or at the very least, critical in nature.

    So the perfume lights up the room, and Judas thinks of all that could have been had she not wasted it like she did. And it reminds him of all the other wasted opportunities he has perceived over the span of his time with Jesus. After all the miracles and public forums, how far had they come, really? I wonder if to Judas, this band of 13 seemed to be going nowhere.

    I imagine Jesus’ life had become to Judas one big exercise in squandering a golden opportunity.

    That’s what I imagine. This was the last straw for Judas.

    The thing that haunts me about this imagining is that it won’t let me simply turn Judas into a cartoonish villain. What it tells me is that, left to my own devices, I am exceedingly more like Judas in this story than I am like Jesus.

  8. The Rabbit Room

    […] me a bit further, if you will, down the road I started in my previous post about the woman who anointed Jesus on that Wednesday evening of that first Easter week. Mark writes, […]

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