A Gathering Voices Post by Don McKim
I was writing a devotion recently and using the text from the story of Mary’s anointing of Jesus at a dinner party: “Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair” (John 12:3). This endearing narrative is taken to show the extravagance of Mary’s care and concern for Jesus who was facing his impending death while on his way to Jerusalem.
The “pound of costly perfume” used to anoint Jesus before his death can be contrasted with the one-hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes brought by Nicodemus to anoint Jesus’ body after his death (John 19:39). Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were carrying out the Jewish burial custom by wrapping the body of Jesus with spices in linen cloths.
Mary and Nicodemus. Their gifts differed in size proportions: One pound to one-hundred pounds. But Mary’s gift was given to Jesus when he was alive, when he was in need of the friendship and support that such an act of anointing provided, as he shared a meal with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, his friends. The timing here makes all the difference.
Mary’s small gift is contrasted with Nicodemus’ large gift. But the smaller gift, given at a time and point of need, means more than the larger gift, rendered after death—when it was too late.
This is a theme we know instinctively. “Do it now,” we would say. We could learn that from The Reader’s Digest if we didn’t know it otherwise. What is good to do—should be done without delay. The time may come when it is too late. The opportunity is missed, the door is shut. Death has come.
But when we think of this in terms of our devotion to Jesus Christ, or doing the will of God, or following the nudgings of the Holy Spirit, these contrasting stories take on more important theological value. They remind us of the need to be ready, to act, to expend ourselves right here, right now. If we resist the Spirit’s leading, or turn away from the will of God, or slacken in our devotion to Christ—the opportunity to do what is before us, may be lost, forever.
I like how Gail O’Day expresses it, simply: “Mary’s declaration for Jesus is not deferred until after his death but is offered to Jesus while he lives.” This is what makes all the difference—the real difference—in the gifts.
It doesn’t matter the “weight” of what we do for Christ: how “prominent” we are; how rich we are; how we stand in relation to others. What matters is the devotion expressed in what we do for Christ. Are we giving our whole selves to serve? Are we doing what we do out of a deep reservoir of love? Outward “appearances” don’t matter, nor do the “ratios” of what we do in relation to what others do. We offer our selves, our whole selves. And we do so out of love for Christ and our desire to serve him.
So the stories put it all on us. We are reminded here that we need to engage the opportunities we have for service; and to enact them, now. We bring the only self we have to Christ. But bringing our self to Christ—is what enables Jesus’ ministries to be carried out in this world. We are alert and active now; before it’s too late.
 Gail R. O’Day, “John,” Women’s Bible Commentary: Expanded Edition, ed. Carol A. Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998), 388.