AN AROMA TO REMEMBER
Taken from “Grace Moments: Living Water for the Thirsty Soul” book of Rev. Jonathan R. Pia
Text: John 12:1-11
A little girl hugged her grandmother and said, “Mmmmm! You smell so wonderful, Grandmother! Is that Oil of Old Lady?”1
Have you ever noticed how a particular smell or aroma can bring back memories? Aromas have a way of evoking certain memories and feelings. You smell something and before you know it, your mind has taken you back to when you were a child or to an event in the past. Huge histories of time are relived within the microseconds of a sniff. It used to be that incense in church was meant to materialize the presence of the divine.
In the Gospel of John, we are told of a story of an aroma that filled a room and evoked several kinds of emotions in the people gathered there.
This story is told in all four Gospels. The details are a little bit different, for whatever reason, but the story of the perfume being poured out and the objection is the same. In Matthew and Mark the story takes place in the home of Simon the Leper (whom Jesus had healed) and the woman is nameless. In Luke it takes place in the home of Simon the Pharisee, who objects to the woman (still nameless) because of her past. John is the only one who tells us that the woman was Mary, the sister of Lazarus. While it may be impossible to definitively discern whether there was more than one public anointing of Jesus during his ministry, it is evident that all the gospel writers knew of, and found significance in such an act.
Some have claimed that the woman in question in Matthew, Mark and Luke was none other than the woman caught in adultery, about to be stoned to death, whom Jesus had forgiven.
Maybe Mary was the woman caught in adultery? “Jesus’” act of kindness certainly would have endeared him to the family. Maybe it was that act of forgiveness that brought Jesus into this family’s life.
None of the speculation really matters, though. What matters is the simple act of love Mary performs for Jesus. Mary knew it only as a priceless expression of her love for Christ. She felt so grateful and appreciative of what Jesus had done for her family, that the words “thank you” did not even begin to express how she felt. What Mary did is an example of a poured out love,a love so strong that the aroma of her deed and the aroma of her love still linger with us.
Pastor Victor Shepherd tells the story of a missionary surgeon he met who on one occasion told a small group of university students about his work in the Gaza Strip. He told the students that they knew nothing about gratitude. He said that on one occasion he had stopped in a peasant hovel to see a woman on whom he had performed surgery. She and her husband were dirt poor. Their livestock supply consisted of one Angora rabbit and two chickens. For income the woman combed the hair out of the rabbit, spun the hair into yarn and sold it. For food she and her husband ate the eggs from the chickens. The woman insisted that the missionary surgeon stay for lunch. He accepted the invitation and said he would be back for lunch after he had gone down the road to see another patient. An hour and a half later he was back. He peeked into the cooking pot to see what he was going to eat. He saw one rabbit and two chickens. The woman had given up her entire livestock supply – her income, her food, everything. He concluded his story by saying that this is gratitude. This is the kind of gratitude Mary had shown to us in this story.
But the story doesn’t end there. Mary (after doing this beautiful thing) is criticized by some of the folks in the room. Mary’s act catches us off guard. It may have been true to those who were actually there. They might have gasped in near horror. And Judas verbalized how they felt. Judas objects to Mary’s anointing of Jesus on what appears to be humanitarian grounds. The costly nard could have been sold and “the money given to the poor” (v.5). Judas’ estimated value of the nard is “three hundred denarii” – a sum that was equal to an entire year’s wages of a common laborer – a truly vast amount. But then Jesus reprimands Judas for being so “stingy.”
A few years ago Mark Trotter told a true story in his sermon about a man in New York City who was kidnapped. His kidnappers called his wife and asked for $100,000 ransom. She talked them down to $30,000. The story had a happy ending: the man returned home unharmed, the money was recovered, and the kidnappers were caught and sent to jail.
But, don’t you wonder what happened when the man got home and found that his wife got him back for a discount? Calvin Trillin wrote about this incident. He imagined out loud what the negotiations must have been like: “$100,000 for that old guy? You have got to be crazy. Just look at him! Look at that gut! You want $100,000 for that? You’ve got to be kidding. Give me a break here. $30,000 is my top offer.”(Mark Trotter 4/2/95)
I suppose there are some of you who can identify with the wife in that story. But for some reason I find myself identifying with the husband. I’d like to think if I were in a similar situation, there would be people who would pay whatever amount is asked. They would not haggle over the price. They wouldn’t say, “Well, let me think about it.” I like to believe that they would say, “We’ll do anything for you.”
Now, the point of the story is simply this: sometimes it’s okay to be extravagant. It is just like when your son would come to you and say, “I’m in love and I’m so happy… I want to get married.” And you would say, “Well, why don’t you just elope? It’s much cheaper. It would be wasteful to have a wedding.” Like Mary, sometimes in the name of love and kindness and gratefulness, it’s okay to be extravagant sometimes. Mary’s gift was so extravagant and priceless. It was a beautiful act of sacrificial generosity. And in this story, Jesus taught us that sometimes it’s okay to be extravagant in our generosity.
Lastly, we reside in a world that is smelly in ways frequently offensive and, in fact, can cause us to vomit. It’s the moral and ethical dimension – sordid politics, masking as do-good philosophy, is one we discover that especially frustrates and angers us. Fortunately for us, Christ comes into the most rotten situations imaginable in our world.
You and I are called not just to believe and have faith, we are called to make a difference. We’re called to bear witness and be ambassadors for the reign of God in this world. Because we’ve given our lives to Christ, we no longer live for ourselves, we live for Christ. As a result, we’re called to leave a pleasing aroma wherever we go. When we give generously of ourselves to others, we make a difference.
At some point today when you get home, I’d like you to open a bottle of perfume and smell it and think about the extravagant gift which Mary, the sister for Lazarus gave that day and the love she poured out in giving it.
I’d also like you to think about the life of Christ. And the life, his blood “poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
And then I’d like you to think about your life. What kind of aroma do you leave behind? What kind of aroma will people remember you for? Do you live a life of poured out love? Are you living a Christ like, poured out life?
1 The Pastor’s Story File (Saratoga Press, P.O. Box 8, Platteville, CO, 80651; 970- 785-2990 970-785-2990 ), July 1999, adapted