Our Lord on His way to Jerusalem before Passover stops to visit His friends Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, whom He had earlier raised from the dead. While reclining at table, because in ancient times guests for meals did not sit on chairs, Mary takes “a liter of costly perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard and [anoints] the feet of Jesus” (John 12:3). We cannot emphasize enough the luxurious nature of this gesture.
Nard, also known as spikenard or muskroot, is an essential oil coming from a flowering plant of the valerian family found in the Himalayas. From antiquity it has been used for perfume, incense, and herbal medicine, joining 18 other aromatic plants mentioned in the Bible, like frankincense (Matthew 2:11). Being costly and rare, the oil is subject to cheap imitation, hence St. John’s mention of “genuine.” Mary uses the “real thing.” That she has “a liter” (John 12:3) of this precious substance highlights even more the extravagance. One could understand why Judas the Iscariot would point out that the oil could have been sold “for three hundred days’ wages and given to the poor” (John 12:5) — almost a year’s salary! Of course, St. John comments that Judas’ consternation is motivated by thievery (John 12:6).
Our Lord explains it all. “Leave her alone. Let her keep this for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me” (John 12:7-8). Our Lord is entering His suffering and death. Nothing is too good for Him. We want only the best for Him. He must be the object of our every desire. We must reject everything that is insincere and artificial. Of interest, the spikenard flower, a symbol of St. Joseph, appears on the Coat of Arms of Pope Francis. Let us approach Calvary with a generous and sincere heart.