But what does this kind of love for the Lord look like in practice? How should a heart devoted to Christ express itself? How close does God allow us to get to Him?
Answer: Scandalously close.
While we stand in awe of her heart toward Christ, what does her devotion tell us about Christ Himself? A great deal. Through Mary's example, He invites us to be closer to Him. He accepts our intimacy, and He will not rebuke us for wanting more of Him, even at the expense of others' reproach.
Not only was Mary of Bethany at the Lord's feet three times, she is also the only person the Lord defended twice. Once to her own sister (Luke 10:41-42), and once to His own disciples (John 12:2-8). He cherished her tender heart and would have no one rebuke her for learning of Him or loving Him. His words, likely spoken gently to those He rebuked, still carried the weight of His authority, and no one dared challenge the Messiah as He simultaneously honored Mary's heart while confronting the resentment and bitterness in their own.
His defense ensured she would not be ashamed of loving Him openly. In the story of Mary, we see a gentle young woman whose spirit could have been crushed. Her bruised reed could have been broken; her smoking flax could have been extinguished. Being put in her place, as it were, she would have been humiliated and shamed before so many people. What could she possibly say that would have justified her actions before the crowd in the room? Therefore, she said no words to explain herself. However, we find that while she remained still, the Lord Himself fought for her (Exodus 14:14).
It is no wonder, then, that Christ would receive His most intimate worship in the flesh from Mary of Bethany. Let's consider it.
In the account in the Gospel of John, Mary anoints our Lord's feet with her expensive perfume (John 12:1-8). But the Gospel of Matthew gives us a clearer picture, that she anointed His head and body also (Matthew 26:6-13). Mary came into the room, broke open her perfume, poured it on Christ's head and body, and finished by anointing His feet, wiping them with her hair. No one spoke during this exchange. I imagine it would have been a room filled with talking and laughter, until this woman, until Mary makes her way to her Lord. She's not here to serve; what is she here for? Why did she come?
I do not believe Mary simply poured her perfume upon Christ without getting any closer. I believe she touched Him to do so. We know she touched His feet. I'm sure she touched His head and hands as well. I imagine she made sure the perfume went into His hair by running her fingers through it, and kept it from rolling down His face. Or, perhaps if it did trickle down His face, she might have swept it from His eyes and made sure it had a path down His cheeks. Did she hold His hands in hers while continuing to anoint Him there? Would she have rubbed the perfume up His arms?
While she poured her perfume upon His feet, she likely perfumed His calves and shins as well. She had no towel; perhaps she realized too late she wasn't properly prepared. So she unbound her hair to wipe Him, and gave Jesus a rare privilege in the sight of her, a gift given only to a woman's husband.
In so doing, she also perfumed herself. I love that. She and Christ shared the same fragrance.
I imagine this scene was so shocking, so scandalous, you could have heard a pin drop. No one dared to speak because...this just wasn't done! What was happening? Where had this lady's propriety gone? Perhaps they didn't dare speak because the Lord didn't say a word. What would He do? They waited to find out.
What I find fascinating is that this level of adoration for the Lord Jesus Christ is unique in the Gospel accounts. The Apostle John rested His head on Christ's chest at the Passover meal, but that was after Mary's anointing. Could it be he finally understood in their last days together that he could be so open with Jesus? Touch is one of the most intimate forms of communication. You can say so much with a rub of the thumb, the swipe of a finger, or the cup of a palm on one's cheek.
No one dared touch Jesus in this way. No one but a humble young woman from the tiny town of Bethany. Her opulent outpouring revealed the bankruptcy of those hearts around her. While they murmured about the "waste" of the perfume that could have been given to the poor, the Lord recognized her act for what it was - true, spiritual worship. To the astonishment of all, Jesus declared Mary of Bethany would be remembered for her adoration, wherever His Gospel was preached (Matthew 26:13).
Doesn't that make you stop in your tracks? Doesn't it take your breath away? What a magnificent honor! What a glory for Mary, to be remembered as the one who adored her Lord above and beyond anyone else. I cannot think of a better legacy than that. In fact, Christ's words are fulfilled in my own home, as I have a portrait of Mary anointing Christ's feet on my dining room wall.
Now, I daresay this high and lofty love for the Lord Jesus Christ is still looked upon in our day and age with an arched brow. People still murmur behind our backs, even those who profess to be Christians themselves! There are many theologians and preachers who have rebuked believers (usually women) for loving Christ above and beyond the level of those around them. While I understand the temptation is there to look upon Christ in an inappropriate manner (being that we are women and our Lord is a glorified man), I do believe many err in extinguishing the smoking flax of women's tender hearts.
Who else but a woman could have anointed Christ in such a scandalous, beautiful, intimate way? You cannot help but see the romance in Mary's anointing. I don't believe Mary wanted Christ for her earthly husband, but she certainly accepted Him as her heavenly one. She, more than anyone else, understood what He would face in Jerusalem. From sitting at His feet, she learned His ultimate fate, and she needed Him to know, before He died, how much she worshipped Him.
In her anointing, she gave herself to Him completely, heart, mind, body, and soul with wild abandon. This is far and away above anything we give to our earthly spouses. This is agape love, which blows away eros love in its unconditional adoration. In our quest to quash anyone from gazing upon Jesus with eros love, are we also quashing a budding agape love?
To the untrained eye, agape love could mimic qualities of eros love, with regards to Mary's "wild abandon" mentioned above. A heart that's fully surrendered to Christ above all else remains to this day a scandalous love. Why? Because like Mary, when we adore Christ with every breath, with every heartbeat, we likewise reveal the bankruptcy in the hearts of those around us.
I believe those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with this same wild abandon of agape love are the ones who are given the same promise as this timid woman of Bethany - throughout the ages, they are the ones remembered by the Church, wherever His Gospel is preached.
Amen, Lord, let it be. Praise Your holy name!