When we follow Jesus, we are following someone who is entirely unlike us. He did strange things during his time on earth – and strange things happened to him. One of the strangest was during a meal in Bethany when a woman named Mary came to Jesus and anointed his feet with very expensive ointment. She wiped his feet with her hair (John 12:1-3).
And we begin to feel – again – that Jesus is a unique man, and people saw him as such. They were driven to do things for Jesus that we don’t fully understand. They were carried along by their wonder at this remarkable man, and they threw themselves into their extreme acts of devotion.
And we read about Jesus, and about the people around him, and we find ourselves perplexed by it all. Part of it is cultural. We do not live in that culture. Ours is very different. But part of it also is the holy nature of Christ. His life was wholly set apart for God. He had a task laid on his shoulders that we cannot imagine.
And at Bethany, Jesus was anointed as the high priest of Israel, in the most remarkable and unconventional of ways. Jesus was set apart for his holy mission of standing in place of the people before God.
God had set this in motion years earlier. “You shall take the anointing oil and pour it on his head and anoint him.” In ancient Israel, priests and kings were anointed. These were the special leaders of the people. They were unlike anyone else. They carried on their shoulders the holy responsibility of leading – and in some cases of bearing the guilt of the people.
We ought to think with wonder about Jesus and the things that occurred to him during his life. This is appropriate. His mission went beyond anything we can imagine.
In that home in Bethany, the house was filled with the perfume of Jesus’ anointing. I suppose the same always was the case at the anointing of Israel’s high priests. It was a reminder of the priests’ holiness. Something special had happened.
I wish I knew what it smelled like.