Today we remember Saint Martha – Martha so busy in the kitchen while her sister, Mary, sits at the feet of Jesus. Later we encounter Martha and Mary as Jesus dines with them again in Bethany. Since this visit comes after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, we can imagine Martha worked long & hard in the kitchen preparing a special feast. In the Gospel of John we don’t hear any complaining from her then, just “Martha served” while Lazarus reclined at the table with Jesus.
Martha’s sister, Mary, is once again busy at the feet of Jesus. After dinner, “Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair; the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfumed oil.” (John 12:3)
Martha sometimes gets a bad rap. When she huffily asked Jesus to let Mary help her during a previous dinner party, Jesus said Mary needed to stay where she was: learning at His feet. Then later when Jesus headed toward Lazarus tomb, Martha cautioned Him about the smell. She was definitely a detail oriented, ‘make-it-happen’ kind of person. Since she obviously managed the food prep for the family, she most likely was intrinsically involved in the household budget.
If Mary blew a whole year’s wages on perfume to anoint the feet of Jesus, don’t you think she would have run it by her sister, the budget queen? Yet, we don’t hear any objections to this extravagance from Martha. I can picture her next to Mary, holding a cloth (so the perfumed oil won’t stain the carpet : ) … this costly anointing, costly worship of Jesus came from them both, because they both loved their brother Lazarus… and Jesus.
… We hear much about costly worship, those who have laid down their lives for Christ, and those who live sacrificially for Him in places where fumes of death, destruction and devastation permeate the air.
But there are all kinds of perfume pleasing to God. Imagine the sweet perfume of Martha’s sweat in a Middle Eastern kitchen making a delectable feast for Jesus (preparing many dinner parties during my 5-year stint in Bethlehem, my most fav offering was a 7- cheese veggie lasagne — it was very HOT for the cook!) Imagine the perfume of Mary’s heart, to wipe dirty feet with her hair … part of her very self.
Sometimes our perfume literally takes what’s messy & makes it clean. Like a double diaper change for a baby, a messy bed clean-up for a caregiver, or laundry duty…
When love sometimes gets messy – we can offer (by the grace of God) the perfume of our forgiveness, compassion, understanding… and love. When life is at times very hard – we can offer the perfume of our joy (by God’s grace) amidst suffering.
Perfume comes in all shapes and sizes… small things done well, God-given gifts shared, big sacrifices that cost, but all done in love, for love, by love — fumes of love anoint the fragrance of our perfume.
As we move through these challenging times, remember Martha & Mary’s examples: Mary physically pouring out costly perfume, Martha helping foot the bill & prayerfully supportive (after offering her perfumed sweat in the kitchen…)
grace, peace & fragrant perfume(s)
Virginia : )