She received his visit with less joy than she normally had. Surely she rejoiced that he came – he was a dear friend and master to her and her family. But she could not help worrying about him. "Is it wise to go to the city at this time," she thought, "when our elders think so ill of him?"
But she knew that he had his own way, which often she could not perceive. He was a dear friend, so close to them, yet she always knew that he was different. She called him Master, for his great wisdom was for all to see, but she knew that he was more than that. The Christ, people had begun to whisper about him, and she heartily believed that.
She knew that going against the will of the elders could mean an arrest. He knew that too. He had spoken plainly that he would be arrested and put to death once he goes to the city. When she first heard it, she was shaken. He spoke about death calmly and resolutely, as if it was something that should be accomplished instead of avoided.
This afternoon, when he arrived at her house, she knew that he had not changed his mind. He looked calm as ever, but there was anguish in his eyes. It was hardly visible, but she, who held him so dear, could not have missed it. He was marching resolutely to his battle. She was afraid that this might be the last time he visited her.
She said nothing of this to him. She greeted him and his disciples warmly, then she assumed her usual place: she sat close to his feet. He did not speak much, but their eyes met few times and she understood. He had bid her farewell, he understood her grief, but she must know that all was well, he seemed to say. He had to take this path, and good would come of this. Good? How could good come of his death, a violent death at that? Mary did not understand, but she clung to this reassurance conveyed by his silence.
When he and his companions went to another room to rest, she went to the kitchen to help her sister preparing dinner. When it was almost dinner time, she went to her room to change her clothes. It was then that she saw the alabaster jar, kept very carefully in a chest. It was very precious to her, not only because it contained pure nard, but also because it was her mother's last gift to her. She had wanted to give it to him for quite some time, simply because it was her most valuable possession, but she could not see how it would be of any use to him. Now she thought sadly that perhaps she would soon use it for his burial. Then another thought came to her. Why should she use it for burial? Why should not she use it now, while he is still with her? And so she took the jar with her when she came for dinner.
The meal was now over. They all lingered at the table, speaking of the coming festival and their journey to Jerusalem. She did not participate much in the conversation; she found it distressing to be reminded about his impending departure. She was also busy thinking of how she could present the ointment to him. Should she wait until everyone but he retires? How should she explain the gift to him?
"You are very quiet today, Mary," said Lazarus, breaking her thoughts. "Are you well?"
"I am well, brother," she said softly, "there is something I need to do and I am thinking deeply of it, that is all."
Then she stood up, and turned to face the Master, who sat next to her. She could feel that everyone was staring at her, but she cared not. She took the jar and poured the ointment on his head. The oil flowed through his hair and a delightful fragrance filled the room. She looked at him, remembered all his kindness to her and his foretelling of his death, and she wept. Still weeping, she knelt and kissed his feet many times. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them away with her hair, for she considered no towel worthy of the task. Afterwards she poured the rest of the ointment on his feet. For a moment she did not move, weeping silently and staring at his feet.
It was Judas, one of his disciples, who broke the silence. He exclaimed, "What an extravagance! Why wasn't this ointment sold for three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor?"
Mary was startled. She remembered how the Master always cared for the poor. Would he not rather have her helping the poor than have her pouring ointment on him?
Even as she thought of that, the Master stroked her head gently. He held out his hand to her and helped her to rise. After she returned to her seat, he addressed them. "Why are you upsetting her?" he said. "What she has done for me is one of the good works indeed! You have the poor with you always, but you will not always have me. When she poured this ointment on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial."
She often wondered at how well he read the heart of others. Now she wondered anew, and was glad that he understood. He understood, that was enough for her, nothing else mattered.