The smell was intoxicating, even a bit overwhelming. But there she was pouring out that expensive oil all over the rabbi’s feet. The dry cracked dust-covered feet of the teacher. Surely something was a bit off to make her do this. I mean this was expensive stuff. One of the students spoke up about the matter, but the teacher quickly corrected them. She has done a beautiful thing? The smell…it was overwhelming.
It seemed to go with the teacher everywhere he went. It almost brought to mind the verses out of the wisdom writings about the ancient anointed kings, “Who is this coming up from the wilderness like a column of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and incense made from all the spices of the merchant?”* Did this woman really know something the students didn’t? They all had hoped he was the Messiah, the anointed one. Even a few days earlier he had the perfect chance to fulfill the role of Messiah. There he was with an entire city ready to rise up, to throw off the Roman scourge and what did he do…he went into the temple instead and accosted the sacrifice sellers and money changers. Instead of driving out the oppressors he attacked the house built by the Davidic line…the very symbol of identity for the Jewish people. That was no way to rally your people under you as king; it almost caused a revolt, and not in a good way.
But maybe this woman saw something the disciples hadn’t fully seen. After leaving the house the rabbi headed back towards the city, the air still thick with the smell of spices from the anointing. It was time for passover and so a meal would be shared together. In the heat of the upper room the aroma lingered from the woman’s gift. It was as if the students were not just sitting with their teacher, but with royalty. And then after the meal…did the teacher even realize that he smelled like a king? What king gets down on his hands and knees in nothing but a towel and begins to wash the students feet…their dry cracked and dust covered feet. What kind of an example of royalty was he setting?
But as the night progresses the aroma lingers. Events quickly turned reality into chaos: a garden vigil, a betrayal, an arrest, trumped-up charges, a trial; and all the while the aroma of messiah lingered in the air. One can’t help but think of the courtyard where the teacher was being accused of blasphemy all the while smelling as if one of David’s line was in their very midst. What these other teachers of the law must have thought. They knew the passages about David and Solomon, the anointed ones, better than anyone. And here in their midst stood this rabbi from nowhere-ville Nazareth and he smelled; well he smelled like a king. But he didn’t behave like a king. He didn’t rise up with a call to arms. He didn’t protest the false charges. No, he just stood there silently.
And as they finally led him away to his death the aroma still was present. It almost made the epitaph above his tool of execution more fitting than ironic, “Jesus of Nazareth: King of the Jews.” For in the midst of the beatings, the flogging, the taunting, the cross-bearing, the crucifixion itself the minds and hearts of those who surrounded him were being pricked. Why does this rabbi smell like a king? Why does he submit willingly to this torture and death? It cannot be true.
And so they sought to cover up the smell. Although the rabbi was placed in a tomb away from the city in a garden it wasn’t enough. They sealed the tomb…to make sure they would never smell this rabbi, this teacher, this king imposter ever again…
But one cannot contain life in death. One cannot hold back love when it triumphs over hate. One cannot bury the anointed one simply by trying to roll a stone in front of a tomb. No! On the third day life came bursting forth. The aroma of king permeated that very garden as Christ arose and became the firstborn of all Creation. Death no longer had sway. The grave had lost. He Is Risen…
Recall with me for a moment the story in Luke 24. The women came early to the tomb on that first day of the week to anoint the body with spices…but they weren’t needed. The smell of resurrection had been in the air before his death. His feet had been anointed prior to his ascension to the throne and that aroma now anointed the earth with every foot fall of the Risen Christ…For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. 2 Corinthians 2:15-16
* Song of Songs 3:6
* Much of the credit for this blog post goes to the book Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus by Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg. It really got my wheels going on this idea.