Last week’s parable caused us to reflect on God’s overwhelming, even prodigal (wasteful) love. Fittingly, this week’s (John 12:1-8) shows us wasteful love in return.
My practical, prudent mind joins Judas (which should give me pause!) in scorning the use of what John describes as “costly perfume,” what Judas says was worth 300 denarii. If that valuation means nothing to you, scholars suggest it was approximately a year’s salary. The average salary in the US is said to be almost $47,000 this year. Whatever you think of that as a salary average, most would agree that’s an overwhelming show of adoration for something that will linger in the air for a day or two or, I hope, longer.
John says “the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” The way scents lock scenes into our memories, if anyone was part of that event ever smelled the same perfume again, they were instantly taken back that moment of adoration. They would attach that smell to that moment of worship.
Incense in worship can transport us to another place. It’s a reminder of the incense that Aaron was to prepare each morning and evening in the tabernacle (Exodus 30). Some churches continue to fill their worship spaces with incense. The ancient idea is that smells (incense, sacrifices) would get God’s attention. Perhaps even as Jesus received the scent of perfume that day, the gift was reciprocated in that all who were present would continue to be reminded by that smell of what Jesus was about to do. As he said, the anointing was preparation for his burial.
Mary gave her gift of expensive perfume and foot-washing as a sign of overwhelming adoration and the scent of it was an ongoing reminder of the overwhelming love that Jesus showed in the days ahead.