The Fragrance of the Oil

Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil
made from genuine aromatic nard
and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair;
the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. – John 12:3

I love to give presents. Just the other day I was standing in Target looking at something cute but utterly foolish to give to my mother for Easter, and I imagined that I would have to say to her “This is completely purposeless, but I want to give it to you”. And I thought, what better sentiment is there?

Regarding today’s Gospel, there is a lot made of Judas response to Mary’s gift (“Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages and given to the poor? “), the narrator’s commentary on the response (‘He said this not because he cared about the poor
but because he was a thief ‘) and, most often, Jesus response-to-the-response (“The poor you will always have with you”).

I am not concerned with any of those things.

I waffle between generosity and stinginess, sometimes lavishly offering whatever I have and sometimes clutching, hoarding, hoping I can make it last longer. As I imagine it was for Mary, it’s not about the money. The object matters less than the act, than the sweeping moment when the object is transferred and the air crackles with love. The more ridiculous the gift, the better. Then we can’t hide behind practicality.

To give like Mary: to not be afraid to touch in a gesture of abundance, to get down on our knees and mop up with our hair, to literally spill our affection out onto other people – this is the kind of giving of which I want to be a part. It is scary and messy and humbling, but at the same time so honest in its effusiveness. Through the streams of oil Mary came as close as possible to making love tangible, and that was worth more than any day’s wages. Even when the arguments went on and the crowds gathered and plotted outside the doors of Mary and Martha and Lazarus, the house was filled with the fragrance of that oil.

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2 Responses to The Fragrance of the Oil

  1. Isabel says:


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