“Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table.” (Matthew 26:6-7, ESV)
In the North African community where we once lived, perfumes were an important part of culture. Every time I read this story in the gospels, I recall the distinct scent of the heavy perfumes worn by my neighbors and friends. I remember visiting a woman who had just given birth. As I sat taking in the scene, a tray filled with small jars and bowls was passed around to the women surrounding the new mother. I watched as women dipped the tips of their fingers into each of the offered bowls and applied the contents to their hair and skin. When the tray was passed to me, I followed suit, breathing in the assortment of perfumes and ointments as I dipped my fingers in and ran them through my hair. Little did I know how difficult these scents are to remove. After washing twice, the perfume clung tightly to my hair. The scent imbedded itself in my clothing, lingering at long last. This stuff was made to last.
With the memory of North African perfume dancing in my nostrils, I began to understand this familiar passage in a new way. As Matthew tells the story, Jesus is anointed by this nameless woman just a couple of days before his crucifixion. That means the perfume did quite literally go with him to the grave. This physical outpouring of love and affection would have lingered on his body throughout the most excruciatingly painful day imaginable.
As he was beaten, he breathed in its scent.
As he stumbled carrying his cross, it wafted around him.
As he was hanging between thieves, abandoned even by his Father, on his dying inhale—that sweet aromatic reminder of extravagant love.
Jesus said, “She has done a beautiful thing to me.” Jesus the God-man knew what was coming. He had just told his disciple that his crucifixion was imminent. He was bearing an impossibly heavy load, weighted down by responsibility that he faithfully kept moving toward. When I’ve read this story in the past, I’ve always considered the extravagant sacrifice of the woman – her willingness to scandalously worship Jesus through this costly act. Today, I see the gift this scandalous outpouring was to Jesus. He knew the significance – He knew what was ahead. God used this woman to remind Jesus of His plan – to extravagantly love and gently nudge him toward the cross. This is a beautiful thing. God ministered to Jesus through this woman fully surrendered to Him. In a single moment, tenderness and scandalous love were poured out on Jesus as he faced his brutal death. The outpouring confirmed his next steps, prepared him for them, and gave him the gift of aroma that he would carry to the cross and grave.
An aroma stronger than the stink of death, reminding him of his power over death.
The aroma of love poured out on him as he poured out his life in love.