Was Nard Tax-Deductible?

John 12:3: “Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume” (NIV).

Observation: It was nearly Passover, the annual celebration when all Israel focused on God’s deliverance from death through an innocent’s sacrifice. On His way to Jerusalem, Jesus arrived in Bethany, where Mary, Martha, and Lazarus hosted a dinner in His honor. While guests reclined around the table in usual Middle Eastern custom, Mary lavished her unique gifts upon Jesus.

Application: Despite its familiarity, this brief story still holds the power to stop us in our tracks. We remember Judas’s hypocritical objection to Mary’s act. His feigned concern for the poor was brushed aside by Jesus Himself: “You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me” (John 12:8, NIV).

But look closely at Mary’s two gifts. First and most obvious was the nard itself. Nard was expensive. Visiting the nard display at the Bethany Mall wasn’t like buying a twelve-pack of knock-off Wal-Mart cola or a gallon of cheap wine at Steinmetz’s Liquors. Nard was a Nordstrom’s kind of thing. And Mary didn’t have just a small, elegant, ribbon-wrapped vial of the stuff; she had about a pint. It could well have represented her life savings, yet she withheld none of it. She didn’t simply moisten her fingers and dab them on Jesus’s feet; she lavished it all on Him.

As astonishing as that was, nard wasn’t Mary’s only gift. This lover of God then lowered herself to wipe His feet with her hair. Think of it! Kneeling low, head nearly to the floor, she gave herself in utter commitment to serving the one she adored. In this act of profound humility, Mary set the example. Given their postures, I imagine she was not able to see His expression of love for her. The singular reward of His affectionate gaze was not what compelled her; rather, her heart so burned with love for Him she must have feared she would burst if she didn’t surrender everything, including her dignity.

When was the last time I gave without calculation? When did I last write a check with no thought of the tax implications? Have I been so compelled to give that it impacted my retirement accumulation? Mary answered the question “How much is enough?” by turning it on its head. In withholding nothing, she gained everything. I wonder: how full will my reward be when I enter His presence?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, Mary’s example is deeply moving, and deeply convicting. Interrupt me, Lord. Interrupt my lifestyle and my efforts to accumulate. Give me the heart of Mary of Bethany, that the room would be filled with the fragrance of my love.

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