And so Jesus, six days before the Passover, came into Bethany where Lazarus was, who had been aroused out of death by Jesus. Then they made a feast there, for Jesus, and Martha served them, and Lazarus was one of those who reclined at the table with Jesus.
Accordingly, Mary took hold of a pound of perfumed oil, spikenard, pure and unadulterated, very costly and precious, and she anointed Jesus’ feet in homage, then kneaded the oil into his feet with her hair, and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfumed oil.John 12:1-3
They had been sitting in Simon’s spacious courtyard, aromatic balsam trees and several varieties of fig trees encircling them in leafy seclusion.
“It was as though I were dead,” Simon had been explaining—once again—to the young man beside him. “There were ten of us in all, our clothing hanging in shreds, the colors blanched by dust and sun, rags wrapped around our hands and heads.” His voice had begun to drift as he reminisced. Those had been harsh days of unspeakable loneliness and suffering.
He shook his head, as he gazed at his Damascene Barada, a new acquisition brought to him from one of his trading caravans. Already the fruit was budding, and there would be plump, honey-sweet figs by the end of May.
“There was so little access to food, except by the pity of alms givers.” He looked over to Lazarus. “Who kept their distance.”
Lazarus smiled kindly to his friend. He had heard this story many times, but it was good to remember the Healer together. He and Simon shared a special bond, for they both had been brought back from death itself by the word of the Lord.
Simon, with the discovery of his whitened skin and lost sense of touch and taste, had been cast out of his home and family. Though a wealthy man, a respected member of the synagogue, a man of stature with fine sons and a faithful wife, leprosy had ended his life. He had walked and walked, numb, until he had come to this border town between Samaria and the Galilee. He would settle with these Samaritan lepers, a breathing cadaver, the living remains of the man who was already dead and gone.
From Death to Life
Then, on a day like any other, a small band of men had appeared on the horizon, approaching the village near where they had been begging. As they always did, they had gathered closer together, each ringing their signature bell and hailing the strangers, “Unclean, unclean!” But they held out their mendicant hands, and pulled their ragged robes off to lay on the ground before them. Perhaps the strangers would drop coins, or a barley loaf.
At some point, one of them had recognized the Healer with his Twelve. “Jesus!” he had shouted. Then all of them joined in, “Jesus, Jesus!”
Have pity on us, cleanse us, raise us back to life, for our flesh rots off our bodies as we stand here pleading with you.
And Jesus had called back to them, his voice rich and deep, power coming in great pulsating waves, “Go on, then!” He had cried as he walked, “Go show yourselves to the priests!”
All of them, to a man, dropped their bells and cloaks, and headed for the village gate, where the court of elders sat. As they walked, shuffled, ran, they began to straighten, life force coursing through them like the mighty River Dan.
“Your face is warm and brown!” one had shouted to Simon, and he had lifted his hands to feel, then startled in place. His arms! The skin was darkening and freshening as he watched, oozing sores closed and then were gone. Breathless, he had begun unwrapping his hands, having lost several fingers, and looked in astonishment when he finally had them free. All ten digits, straight and true.
He was almost to the gate when he had heard behind him one of them call out praises to Almighty God. As he turned to look, one of the Samaritan lepers had run back to Jesus and thrown himself at the Healer’s feet, hugging his ankles. Even from Simon’s distant vantage, he could see the man heaving sobs of relief and thanksgiving.
“Why did I not thank him?” he asked his young friend, but Lazarus made no reply.
They sat together in pensive silence, then Lazarus spoke, softly, yet with impassioned intensity.
A Banquet is Planned
“We can thank him, now, Simon!” The resurrected leper turned to the resurrected youth, his eyebrows raised in a question.
“Yes!” Lazarus was warming to his theme. “We’ll throw a banquet when we see him next. I think it will be soon, for Passover comes next week.”
“We’ll have it here,” said Simon, growing warm with enthusiasm, “We will invite all those who have been blessed by the Master.” And both were swept up into a new reverie of the many who had been healed, restored, comforted, counseled, and ministered to by their Lord.
Hours later, and servants were knocking on the doors of most who lived in Bethany. “Come to Simon’s house for a banquet, when the Master arrives.” All knew who that was, and that it would be soon, for it was the time of Pesach.
Days later, and the cry rang out again, now saying, “He is here! he is here!” and again, servants ran from door to door, “Tonight, the feast will be tonight.”
His Death is Near
Martha and Mary had also been talking with each other, in the courtyard of their own home, as they wiped the leaves of their Syrian Byadi and Sweet Joy figs. A gentle cleanse of fresh water and a soft cloth removed many of the small mites and beetles that harmed their fruit trees.
“His death is coming soon,” Mary had been saying, “He talks of it more and more.”
Martha pursed her lips. Ever since Lazarus had died, Mary had turned to the morbid. “Mary,” she had begun, but her sister interrupted her.
“Martha, this is not dark musing.” Mary was shaking her head as she wrung her cloth in the bowl. “Have you not been listening to him?”
Martha stopped and turned to look at Mary, who was now looking at her. The breeze which so often swirled round their inner garden rustled through oregano and basil, stirring the lavender’s scent and the spearmint’s leaves. They both shared a silent knowing, and Martha gave a short, stiff nod. Yes. It was unthinkable, yet true. The time was growing close.
“I want to do something, Martha. I love him so much,” and Mary’s eyes began to tear up.
Martha bustled over to her younger sister, so sensitive, so tender, and drew the smaller woman towards her in a firm hug, resting her chin on the crown of Mary’s head. Then she patted her and placed her strong hands on Mary’s shoulders, moving her sister to look full in her face. “We will. I will help you. We will do it together.” And Mary nodded, her lips trembling.
A Family Affair
Later that night, as they reclined at table, Lazarus related all that he and Simon had planned. “A banquet for us all to honor the Master,” he had said, taking a bite of wheat bread and hummus. Martha’s eyes sparkled, “I know just the dishes to prepare,” she said, clapping her hands together, “And who to bring in for serving.”
“I think Simon has his own servants,” Lazarus gave her a wry smile. So like his sister to take over.
“Never mind that,” Martha said, “Now he’s a widower, it needs a mistress’ hand to guide.” Lazarus and Mary looked at each other, grinning, and Lazarus rolled his eyes. They both knew Martha hoped Simon would notice her in a special way.
Martha huffed, and they both laughed as she reddened. Then she laughed too, and they began to make their own plans.
The Alabaster Jar
Late that night, Mary was still awake, her oil lamp flickering as its wick burned low. She prayed as she contemplated her dowry, a jar made of alabaster, its amber translucence glowing against her dark hands. Their father, soon after she was born, had settled its price with a merchant from far off India, a pound of spikenard, precious and costly. Her father would have brought this jar to the signing of the Ketubah, the nuptial agreement between their family and the family of her intended. Had her father lived. Had her intended lived.
Almighty God, King of the Universe, Creator of the naladam. She had said the word many times, as her father had taught her, for it was Adonai who had created the purple flower from which this precious oil came. I praise you for this oil. She looked down, again, at the round and heavy bottle, its smooth sides veined in dark umber, its ornately carved stopper sealed with the mark of the perfumer.
I know he is your Son, he is Messiah, he is the Savior of the Cosmos. I know you call him to die. Please accept this gift, my life, my future, for his sake.
She carefully placed the jar in the nest of linen cloths that lined its cedar container, closed the lid, and resealed it with her signet. At the banquet, she would break this seal one last time.
[Alabaster Jar | User:oncenawhile, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons]