The beautiful bloom above is from our Wandering Iris plant. You need to be attentive or you’ll completely miss it. The Wandering Iris blooms only once a year, scattering its blooms over several weeks, each bloom lasting only one day. I see a parallel in the lectionary reading of the story of Mary anointing Jesus’ feet with costly perfume and then wiping his feet with her hair (John 12: 1-8).
It’s holy extravagance! The vial of nard perfume that Mary poured over Jesus’ feet comes from the spikenard plant that grows high up in the Himalayan Mountains of India, Nepal, and China. Because of the long overland journey, it was very expensive in ancient Palestine. One vial alone cost about 300 denarii, which was about a year’s wages.
The significance of this story is often missed in the church calendar because it’s immediately followed by accounts of Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Good Friday and the crucifixion, and the resurrection on Easter morning. I suspect we also skip over the story because we don’t know what to make of its extravagance and sensuality. A beautiful woman splurged a year’s wages on a vial of perfume, which she poured over Jesus feet, wiped them with her hair, and filled the whole house with the fragrance.
I admit that I would have been shocked by this display and would have sided with those who grumbled that it would have been better to sale the perfume and give the money to the poor. Jesus wasn’t having any of it, saying, “This is beautiful!” In what sense is spirituality sensual and extravagant? For frugal and somewhat prudish folk like me, all this seems self-indulgent rather than holy.
We don’t talk a lot about beauty in the church and God forbid that we would talk about sensuality. We instead talk about worship, mission, service, peace, and justice–all good and worthy things. Let’s lay aside that discussion for a bit to ponder (dream and scheme) about how our spirituality and our service can be informed by Mary’s beautiful deed of holy extravagance.