Like the perfume of the incense which clings to our clothing and to our hair, the sweet-smelling savor of the costly ointment from Mary filled the whole room.
Certainly, that ointment had been purchased in order to chase away the stench of death as Lazarus lay dying. Certainly, Mary and her sister Martha were going to use that costly perfume to anoint Lazarus’ dead body. However, Christ had raised Lazarus from the dead. And so, the cologne sat on a shelf, waiting for the opportune time.
That time came when Christ entered the room. In order to cover the stink of her own sins, Mary lavishly poured this expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet. And then she let the pleasant scent soak into her hair. It was an act of repentance. It was an attempt to chase away the disgusting odor of deadly pride, lust, wrath, greed, apathy, gluttony, and envy.
It was also Mary’s way of connecting her life to Christ’s life. She wanted the fragrance of His kindness and humility, the sweet-savor of His love, the refreshing scent of His mercy and forgiveness, to cover her, head to toe. And so “Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.”
Without denying Mary’s act or intention, Jesus, as He often does, turned the image. The perfume which permeated the room now became the smell of defiance. Against death. And against the fear of death.
“Let her alone,” Jesus says to the betrayer who will rush Jesus to death while also taking death into his own hands. “Let her alone. She has kept this [perfume] for the day of My burial. She is anointing me as if I were dead. This perfume, which was for her dying brother, is now announcing my impending burial.”
Most likely, there’s another bottle of costly perfume on the shelf. For one bottle will not do when a person has died. Like the first, this second bottle will not be used for Lazarus. He doesn’t need it since he has been raised. Instead, this second bottle will travel with Mary, and the other Mary, when they go to the tomb early in the morning intending to perfume Christ’s deceased body. But that second bottle will never be used for its intended purpose. Instead, it will remain as perpetual reminder that the stench of death, and the stink of despair, and the reek of fear, no longer need to be chased away or covered over.
In these unsettling days, Mary’s act, and her perfume, and the unopened bottle that sits on her shelf—these are constant reminders that our fears and anxieties, our apprehension about dying or causing death, need never get the best of us. And the shudder that we feel deep in our bones when we hear the words ‘pestilence,’ ‘pandemic,’ or ‘virus,’ or ‘plague’—that feeling is also diffused by the sweet smelling savor of Our Lord’s perfumed body.
Fear and the fear of death, like an unpleasant odor, can stick to us and emanate from our bodies into the nostrils of those around us. But, like Mary, we can use the fragrance of our hope, the perfume of our kindness, the cologne of our confidence, and the aroma of our love to diffuse and scatter and chase away this stench—from ourselves and from those around us. And we can, with our care for others, let the Life that Christ draws us to, and lives for us and through us and in us—let that life permeate every place, every person; most especially the lonely, the isolated, the fearful, the vulnerable, and those who enveloped in fear.
As Mary has shown us, the aroma we give off begins with an act of repentance; and setting aside our pride and inwardness; and then bathing ourselves in fearlessness, with the surety that, no matter how these next weeks go, Christ’s resurrection has overwhelmed the stench of all death.
And then we can be what St Paul says we are: the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved, and the aroma of life leading to life. For, as Mary has shown us, “God always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place.” (2 Cor 2.14-16)