A Beautiful Work

Mary shows us what beauty looks like.

The Gospel of John: John 12.1-11

Read and meditate on John 12.3.
We find Mary again, at the feet of Jesus, but with an entirely different purpose this time. What a beautiful work of love.

                       3Mary brought a vat
of costly oil of spikenard, and began
anointing Jesus’ feet with it. And then
she wiped His feet with her own hair. And so
the fragrance of the oil began to go
throughout the house.

- John 12.3

1.  In Luke 10.38-42, we find Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet. Doing what? Here she is again at His feet. How is this situation different from the previous one? What significance should we attach to each of these situations taking place at Jesus’ feet? What does each suggest about Mary? Since Jesus commended her each time, what instruction is there for us? Complete this prayer: Lord, let me be found always at Your feet, for…

2.  Harmonies of the gospels (NKJV, Robertson, Aland, Augustine, Calvin) equate Mary’s act with that of the unnamed woman who anointed Jesus’ head in Matthew 26 and Mark 14. Both were done in Bethany, but in the home of Simon, not Lazarus and his sisters. Apparently, Mary poured her precious oil on Jesus’ head and feet, though John only mentions His feet. In both Matthew’s and Mark’s account of this incident, Jesus described what Mary did as a good or even a beautiful work (cf. Matt. 26.10, Mk. 14.6). What was beautiful about this act? Is there beauty in the effects of this? Can we learn anything about beauty from Mary’s act? About living in a beautiful way? Lord, help me to contemplate Your beauty (Ps. 27.4), so that I might…

3.  This was a very expensive act on Mary’s part. A denarius (v. 5) was the equivalent of a day’s wage for laborers. What would a comparable sacrifice look like, if you were to make it?Meditate on Romans 12.1. Lord, make me a living sacrifice every day, so that all I am and have…

4.  John makes a point of telling us that Mary wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair? What would have been the effect of this on Jesus’ feet? On Mary’s hair? Why do you suppose it was important to John to mention this? Jesus, You are the Anointed One of God! Rub off on me, Lord, and transform me, so that…

5.  “And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.” Meditate on Ephesians 4.8-10 and 2 Corinthians 2.14-16. In what ways can Mary’s act symbolize what God intends for you with respect to your Personal Mission Field? Bring together into one prayer the prayers you wrote from questions 1-4.

“Harmony is maintained here between the three Evangelists: Matthew, Mark and John. There is no doubt that they record the same occurrence at Bethany. This is the occasion when the disciples also, as all three mention, murmured against the woman, ostensibly on the ground of her having wasted this very precious ointment. There is the further fact that Matthew and Mark tell us that it was the Lord’s head on which the ointment was poured, while John says it was his feet. This can be shown to involve no contradiction if we apply the principle … that even where the several Evangelists introduce only the one fact each, we should take the case to have been really that both things were elements in the actual occurrence. In the same way, our conclusion with regard to the passage now before us should be that the woman poured the ointment not only on the Lord’s head but also on his feet.” Augustine (354-430 AD)

Mary lavished her most expensive possession on Jesus, with the result that all those in the house turned their attention to Jesus, and the beautiful fragrance coming off His head and feet. This is beautiful and good work, indeed. What’s the lesson for you?

Closing Prayer
How lovely is Your tabernacle,
O LORD of hosts!
My soul longs, yes, even faints
For the courts of the LORD;
My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.
Even the sparrow has found a home,
And the swallow a nest for herself,
Where she may lay her young—
Even Your altars, O LORD of hosts,
My King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in Your house;
They will still be praising You.

Psalm 84.1-4

Psalm 84.1-4 (Holy Manna: Brethren, We Have Met to Worship)
Lord of hosts, how sweet Your dwelling;
How my soul longs for Your courts!
Let my soul with joy keep telling
Of Your grace forever more.
Like a bird upon the altar
Let my life to You belong.
Blessed are they who never falter
As they praise Your grace with song!

T. M. Moore

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We are happy to offer each week’s Scriptorium studies in a free weekly PDF, suitable for personal or group use. You can download all the studies in our series on the Gospel of John by clicking here. Please prayerfully consider sharing with The Fellowship of Ailbe through your giving. You can contribute to The Fellowship by clicking the Contribute button at the website or by sending your gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 19 Tyler Drive, Essex Junction, VT 05452.

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. All psalms for singing adapted from The Ailbe Psalter. All quotations from Church Fathers from Ancient Christian Commentary Series IV a and b: John, edited by Joel C. Elowsky, General Editor Thomas C. Oden (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006. Verse translation of John by T. M. Moore.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT. 

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