About Me

My photo
Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

John 12:1-8 Mary Anoints Jesus’ feet
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church
March 28, 2004

“Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus' feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.”

A benefit of getting older and going to “family-oriented” restaurants is that Kristen and I rarely come home smelling like cigarette smoke anymore. We don’t smoke. Neither of us have ever smoked. And now that we have kids, the chances of us hanging in out smoky places are increasingly slim. Weigel’s is about the only place we go where there’s always the smell of stale smoke in the air, combined with the aroma of corn dogs rotating over the light of a long-life bulb. If I stop in Weigel’s on the way home, Kristen can tell. “Sniff, sniff. What’d you get at Weigel’s?”

In those rare times that we do go someplace other than Chuck E. Cheese and McDonalds, when we go somewhere that allows grown-ups to smoke, as soon as we get in the car, we remember why we’re glad this doesn’t happen very often. The smell stays with you. It gets in your clothes. It gets in your hair. And if you don’t wash your hair when you get home, it gets on your pillow. A couple of days later, and you can still remember where you’ve been by using the sense of smell. It stays with you.

A side effect of the tender scene when Mary anoints the feet of Jesus would have to have been similar, but in a good way. The Bible tells us “the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” I have no idea how a pint of nard smells, but I’ll bet Mary’s sister, the original Martha the Domestic Diva, had the windows open for days after. The house would have smelled like perfume. Jesus would have smelled like perfume. All the tough, hairy fishermen disciples would have smelled like sweet perfume. Judas would have smelled like perfume. And Martha’s hair, the hair that bathed Jesus’ feet, especially would have held onto the fragrance. She would wake and smell it on her pillow for days to come. It stays with you.

The extravagance of Mary’s act foretells the extravagance of the acts which lay before Jesus. To be hailed as a king, crucified as an enemy of the people, dying for sins he didn’t commit and people he didn’t know. He was the Son of an extravagantly loving God. His only earthly preparation was the shamelessly generous act of a woman who chose to be a servant, a disciple, as none of the people around her could.

Despite being perfectly selfless, Jesus knew how to be grateful. And no matter how delicious Martha’s gourmet meal might have been, no matter how much money might have slipped through Judas’s fingers into the hands of the poor, it’s this one extravagantly loving act that we remember. Jesus is anointed for death, and the scent stays with us.


They say that the sense of smell is the one that’s wired directly into the deepest parts of the brain. I wouldn’t know, because I can’t breathe through my nose this time of year. Welcome to springtime in East Tennessee. People have been asking me for six months if I have a cold. No, I don’t; this is just how I sound. But, then, a lot of the time I AM having a cold, or getting one, or getting over one. Welcome to the parenthood of preschoolers. The smell of Mary’s perfume reminds us that God finds a way into the deepest parts of our souls. Sometimes through the simplest way.

She’s sixteen years old and she’s given up talking to God. She’s given up going to church. She’s given up on a lot. But every so often, without really knowing why, she goes to the bookshelf. She squeezes her fingers around the Bible that’s lodged between too many other books. She carries it to her bed, and sits down cross-legged with the Bible cradled in her lap. She lets the pages fall open, and they always open to exactly the same place. It’s the place where the rose is pressed. The rose she kept from her mother’s funeral. She lightly strokes its petals. And as she wipes away a tear from her cheek, she catches a breath of fading fragrance. She remembers that awful day. She wishes she could have kept more. She looks down at the random words that bear the stained outline of the flower. Psalm 46:5. “God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God shall help her at the turning of the morning.” She takes a deep breath, like she’s trying to breathe in the words, the flower, the whole book. It’s just a breath. But it stays with you.

He guides the crosscut blade through the two-by-eight and the power saw sings its metallic “Waaaaah” across the building site. Only a few more boards to cut and they can start to assemble the last of the roof trusses. He’s the church’s freely elected building supervisor and he’s having the time of his life. For all fifteen years of his young church’s existence, he’s been waiting for the day when they’d move out of the metal building and into a real sanctuary. And here it was, happening before his eyes. And best of all they were building it themselves. Yes, there they were, the other deacons who had fought him tooth and nail, saying, “We just can’t afford it, Brother Bill,” there they were, carrying ladders and hammering nails and taking yet another coffee break to debate whether to add a window to the narthex. Yes, it cost them money out of their own pockets, money they might have sent to a missionary, money they might have spent on hiring a full-time preacher. But by God, thought Bill, come next Christmas these sons and daughters of sharecroppers are going to praise the Baby Jesus in a real sanctuary built on real faith, and a little blessed stubbornness. As he surveys the activity in the church lawn, he breathes in the smell of honeysuckle mixed with fresh cut wood. It smells like, like Jesus. It gets in your clothes, it gets in your lungs. And it stays with you.

He was the man whose job it was to cut the crosses down. Not all of them, mind you. You had to keep enough of them standing to remind the people of the wages of their sins. Keep the peace, bow to Caesar, stay out of trouble or this is what’ll happen to you, you know. But the men in charge liked most of them to come down the day after the body did, just to keep the landscape attractive. And so he and his sons were the public servants who did the ugly deed of removing the tools of justice. It wasn’t all that hard. A little digging, a little chopping, a push and a pull and there you go. Scrap wood. Over the years he had gotten so used to the work that he gave up the cloth tied over his mouth and nose that so many of the younger workers thought was required. You’ll get used to it, he told his sons. Death is just a part of life. But as he dug at the base of this one, something strange passed through his mind, as if a cloud had passed from in front of the morning sun. What in the world? He frowned and looked around, thinking maybe someone, some woman had walked up beside him. Of course not. He started back to digging, but there it was again. He ran his fingers along the wood of the cross. He moved his face near it. Up a little from the base, from the wood where the feet would have been came the smell of perfume. Sweet perfume. Strong perfume. Lovely, fresh, beautiful perfume, the kind only the richest ladies wore, that followed them like a golden cloud when they walked down the street on a summer’s evening. Among this host of death was the smell of life in its most glorious and it made no sense. For a moment his job caught up with him and a choke gathered in his throat. As never before he felt something was wrong with the world. But something this lovely was also right. Why it would be right he couldn’t fathom. It was too beautiful for him to understand. That kind of thing stays with you.


“…but you will not always have me with you,” Jesus said to Judas. But thankfully for us, sometimes the memory wired deep into our souls is even more powerful than the presence itself. God is. God is… persistent. God is… with you in the simplest of ways. Psalm 141 says, “May my prayer be set before you like incense.” Yes indeed. May our acts of prayer and worship be a sweet anointing of Jesus’ feet. And may also God be a breath of sweet air to us. Because sometimes that’s all it takes – a breath of sweet air in an otherwise foul world – sometimes that’s all it takes to remind us that God is going to find a way. Take that into the breath of your lungs, into your soul – just once – and it stays with you.