The Ointment Very Precious

There was a supper held in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, and Jesus was the guest of honor; so we read in the Gospels. As was the custom in those days, the public was privileged to enter and look on at the proceedings. On this occasion there was a great stir of interest because of Lazarus, whom Jesus had recently called forth from the tomb after he had lain there four days. We are told that Lazarus sat at meat with Jesus whilst Martha served. Then, as the feast proceeded, Mary, her sister, came in with an alabaster box of spikenard, very precious, which she broke, pouring the contents on the Master's head till "the house was filled with the odour of the ointment." Was it that Mary's spiritual intuition had discerned something of his glory that none of them, not even his disciples, had so far been able to see? May it have been this spiritual insight in Mary which had satisfied the Master's yearning for a response to his teachings when, on another occasion, Martha, cumbered with unnecessary serving, rebuked Mary for sitting at his feet?

This spiritual appreciation of Jesus' work which prompted Mary's act brought to the surface the suppositional opposite—envy—finding voice through Judas, who later betrayed him. Unable to disguise his resentment at the honoring of Christ Jesus in this public way, Judas burst forth with the words, "Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?" There were undoubtedly some followers of the scribes and Pharisees, some enemies of the Master, among the onlookers, for it is recorded that they took up the words of Judas until there was a murmur of indignation against Mary. The Greek word translated "murmured against" may also be translated "upbraided," or even "snorted with anger."

The Power of Silence in Reading Rooms
July 8, 1933

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