Seeming Unseemly

“Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” – John 12:3

Scholars always seem to say something, well, scholarly about this passage, like, “In first century Palestine, the act of wiping Jesus’ feet with her hair would have been an act of unseemly immodesty by Mary.”

Honestly, I’m hard pressed to think of a time or place where it would not be considered unseemly or immodest to pour a pound of perfume (which then, as now, is generally sold by the ounce) on a dinner guest and then massage that guest with one’s hair. Adding to the unseemliness of this scene is the use of nard, which would have cost a year’s wages and was imported from India—even by today’s travel methods not exactly a hop, skip and a jump from Palestine.

Mary’s act of devotion irritated at least one of her fellow disciples and likely unsettled the rest of her guests, who now had their nostrils filled with an overwhelming redolence of nard instead of the dinner in front of them.

Why did Mary do this, pour out her devotion in such a flagrant way? There could be many possible reasons, but with the death of Jesus looming ever closer, I suspect she gave her all because she knew it was the last chance she would have. She knew the end was in sight, and so she did not hold back.

Sometimes you’ve been asked to consider what you would do if you knew you had no more time left. Maybe a more interesting question is what you would do if you knew Jesus had no more time left. Would you be willing to seem unseemly if you knew that today was your last day with the Savior? Would you be willing then, at last, to pour out all your love and all your worship, every last drop?


Christ Jesus, We have so little time left to worship you. Let us make every remaining moment count. Amen.

dd-brownell.pngAbout the Author
Jennifer Brownell is the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Vancouver, Washington, and the author of Swim, Ride, Run, Breathe: How I Lost a Triathlon and Caught My Breath, her inspiring memoir.