Sweet-Scented Dust

Monday of Holy Week, March 29, 2021

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

Oh, Jesus, must you say such shocking things?
She had, indeed, done such a precious thing for you,
so tender and so intimate, so grateful
for the love you bore for her and Martha.
For after all, you brought their brother back.

And now, with scent of spikenard rising in the house,
you spike the words of Judas, keeper of the purse,
by speaking of the day you would be laid to rest,
a tragedy that perfume could not sweeten, not
with rivers poured upon your lifeless corpse.

Oh, pause now, Jesus, for you shock us once again,
for must we ever have the poor with us?
Could not the rivers of the scent we’ve not poured out
transform this world into a paradise on earth?
Perhaps they could – but bottled they remain.

Except for this one jar unstopped above your feet,
the oil dripping from your soles into the earthen floor,
still warm from your still-pumping heart,
now rising to enchant your breath, their breath, our breath,
sweet-scented dust inhaled to death and life.

A poem/prayer based on John 12:1-11, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year B, Monday of Holy Week.

The image is Mary Magdalene Anoints the Savior’s Feet by Dominik Mosler (before 1880) – [1], Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=82653427.

2 thoughts on “Sweet-Scented Dust

  1. Thank you!

    Searching for an artistic rendering of this story, I was quite surprised to find that artists frequently identified her as Mary Magdalene. It gets additionally confused because the anointing is set in the house of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in John and in the house of Simon the Pharisee in the Synoptics. Artists seem to prefer Simon’s house. That might be where the confusion with Mary Magdalene comes from. I know that’s a frequent identification for the woman in the Synoptic version of the story, even though she’s not named.

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