Living after you have died is strange.
You appreciate life like never before. Martha’s lentil soup never tasted so good. Even the capers, which I have never relished, were suddenly exquisite.
It had been months since Jesus brought me back to the realm of the living. And as was His custom, the Teacher visited us once again on His way to Jerusalem.
We did not know it at the time, but this visit would mark the last week of His earthly life.
That entire week, He would visit the holy city in the day and retreat in the evening to our home, where He and His disciples lodged overnight.
When we received word that Jesus was coming, my father decided to host a private dinner party to celebrate my resurrection. Jesus would be the guest of honor.
As usual, Martha served as hostess and Mary assisted.
Before the banquet began, Martha insisted that I sit next to Jesus, which I gladly did. My father sat at the head of the table with Jesus at his right hand in the place of honor.
Our house was packed to the brim that evening. Voices rose to the roof. Bright colors of clothing dotted the public room. Some of our closest friends were present, including relatives from Bethany and Jerusalem. It was a reunion of everyone we held dear.
The dinner party was held six days before Passover. And Jesus brought all of His disciples.
“Welcome!” my father boomed, greeting each person as they arrived. His eyes brightened with excitement. “You know my daughters, and you are in for a real feast tonight!”
Jesus complimented Martha’s cooking as usual. “Your flatbread has no rival, Martha,” said the Teacher.
Martha and Mary prepared an elaborate feast. A large plate of mixed meats was placed on the table. Another plate featured assorted vegetables with fish, turnips, beans, and a delicious brine sauce. Aged wine was also served.
We arranged two clusters of three couches around the table. Jesus, my father, some of the Teacher’s disciples, and I reclined around the low table, propping ourselves on cushions. The rest of the party sat on stools and benches in the open space in front of the table.
We all ate together, and Martha served.
Jesus was more solemn than usual that night. I kept watching Him while we ate, and He seemed to be deep in thought much of the time. His mouth pulled downward.
Near the end of the meal, I caught a whiff of an exotic scent. Others could smell it too, but none of us knew from where it came.
With dramatic suddenness, I looked down and saw my sister Mary kneeling at Jesus’ feet. She snapped the narrow neck of a flask containing nard from India. The nard was an enormously expensive fragrance, worth the financial equivalent of three hundred days of labor.
Before her passing, my mother gave the nard to Mary as a gift. Mary was only seven years old then. One pound of the exotic perfume was sealed in a beautiful flask of alabaster. Candlelight flickered over the white jar.
I was shocked because this was Mary’s future security.
The house fell silent as we fixed our gaze on Mary. What was she doing at Jesus’ feet?
After breaking the fragile seal, Mary poured the nard on the Teacher’s head. She did so liberally and profusely. So much so that it ran down His beard, droplets beading down over the fine hairs.
She removed His sandals and poured the rest of the nard on His feet, anointing them with it. She wiped them with her long black hair.
The immaculate head that would soon wear a crown of thorns was first crowned with the exquisite scent of my sister’s perfume. Mary’s flask of alabaster was the tangible token of the thankful outpouring and willing surrender of her heart.
The nard was, very simply, the most treasured possession she owned.
Mary had saved the nard for years. But the hour ripened for her to use it in a way that no mortal could predict.
I watched Jesus and a subtle smile streamed across His face. The fragrant beauty of Mary’s act touched Him with quiet joy.
The Lord who had wept with my sisters at my tomb now rejoiced with us at our table.
The scent of the perfume, now completely exhausted on the Teacher, silently flooded the room.
The pleasant aroma matched the spiritual fragrance of my sister’s act. And it left an indelible mark upon all of us. Especially Jesus.
Martha looked on with mild surprise. I saw tears running down her face as Mary anointed Jesus with the perfume.
At that moment, it dawned on me how much Martha had changed. She was still serving, but not anxiously. She was still hospitable, but no longer distracted. But even more than this, she had begun to understand the love that our sister had for the Teacher. And she affirmed it in her actions.
The sight of Mary unbinding her hair arrested the room. To those who did not understand what she was doing, it was a scandal. Some of our relatives glowered at her. Others recoiled in horror.
Embarrassment was written on the faces of some of the Teacher’s disciples.
But to those who understood Mary, it was an act of extravagant love.
I glanced over at John. His eyes welled up with tears. The other disciples seemed irritated. A few of them turned their heads.
I have no words to adequately describe the sweetness of Mary’s act that day. I knew my sister well, and she was motivated by the ardent love she had for the Teacher. It was a visible exhibit of unselfish worship and heartfelt devotion; a supreme tribute of her pure affection for Him.
None of us realized it at the time, but Mary outshined all the other disciples in her grasp of the Lord’s worth as well as His imminent death.
Somehow she knew that the One who had raised me from the dead would soon take His own place in the tomb.
Years later I would reflect on this incident, remembering how Jesus would often tell us how He would be taken by the Gentiles and led to die. We did not understand what He was speaking about. But my sister, with her sensitive heart, understood.
— adapted from God’s Favorite Place on Earth by Frank Viola, author