The Gospel of John identified Judas Iscariot as the one questioning the expenditure and theology about Mary’s costly oil to anoint Jesus’ feet (Jn 12). In the Gospel, Jesus links the oil with His upcoming death and preparation. Biblical narrative reminds us of ‘the place of smell from the aromas of burnt offerings to the Old Testament through to the precious perfume in our Gospel reading today.’ Primarily, perfume is to mask the base odour/smell of person/product. Perfume gives person or product an identity and advertisement. The main purpose of the perfume is to keep unpleasant body odours at bay and make sure you smell fresh throughout the day. Perfumers pride boost, mood, confidence and attraction. One can wear perfume to smell and reflect different kinds of mood, theology, leadership, and projections – mischievous, timid or reserved.
Wearing a perfume is a metaphor of different character per the occasion or position like Mary of Bethany and Judas Iscariot. There are two types of churches: one traveling with the will of God; other traveling against the will of God. Mary stands as a role model for every faithful disciple of Christ or church traveling with the will of God just as Judas, a model every unfaithful disciple of Christ or church traveling against the will of God. We are either the person who faithfully smells heaven scent, fragrance of Christ or we are performer who smells rotten and mischievous, a perfume (performer) Christian. At the feet of Jesus is where His fragrance is faithfully poured into our lives. Mary sat at Christ’s feet, soaked up His teaching, took Jesus’ promises to heart, faithfully broken, a great impartation and mystery no one can deny or take away from her. Faithfulness as inner attitude, a renewed lifestyle is not synonymous with performance, outward expression and competition. Mary had a right and renewed attitude but Judas had a wrong attitude. Perfume Christians fills the perfume church with performance as a duty but flagrance of Christ are faithful in sacrificial worship and devotion. Judas as a model of perfume Christian warns us that perfume church decay and die. Mary, a fragrance of Christ is a model of faithful disciple of Christ, a witness to Christ’s crucifixion and the first to see the Risen Lord. Mary, a fragrance of Christ is a model of church commissioned by Christ to proclaim the good news of Christ’s resurrection and His Second Coming.
C.S Lewis explained that the missional sense of Mary’s great action is ‘the precious alabaster box which one must break over the Holy feet is one’s heart…And the contents become perfume only when it is broken. While they are safe inside, they are more like sewage.’ All human smell just as Mary and Judas whether, with the smell of love or the stench of lie and greed. Karoline Lewis said, ‘smells don’t replace — they contrast, they tell the truth about our human existence.’ Just as Mary’s perfume of brokenness, as flagrance of Christ tells of scent of salvation through Jesus death, Judas’ perfume and smell suggests a mask and sewage that erases or cover generous devotion. The power of the sense of smell permeates our life with the good and the bad, the powerful and the painful, the delirious and the difficult. The truth about Mary’s human existence was the motivation and awareness of the impending death of Jesus hence, Jesus linked the oil with His upcoming death. Comparatively, the truth about Judas’ cold-heartedness, inner greed, and pride is found in his statements of exterior piety, a perfume Christian with different character, theology and interpretations per the occasion.
Judas, a perfume Christian as a metaphor through the pairing of Mary’s perfume of brokenness as flagrance of Christ not only creates a rhetoric of contrast – Mary’s brokenness or Judas’ idea of business as usual. It also shows how Mary and Judas contrast true and false discipleship, what is true and what is deceptive as well as true love and false love. Perfume Christian, comparatively, between Mary and Judas warns us that all human smell, especially followers of Christ. Judas as a perfume disciple was living a lie, masking and smelling one personality over another. Friend, are you masking and smelling one personality over another? You need to repent before it is too late. People and even churches smell to take control of us, ‘choosing to smell one thing over another … taking over that which we’d rather be able to smell.’ Judas as an example of a perfume Christian suggests cunning actions and pretention of keeping things in order and care for people. Perfume Christian is concerned about getting what he or she wants, anyway he or she can get it. Judas, a perfume Christian resonates as Satan’s cohorts in the church, in the media, school administration, government, twisting God’s plan and purpose.
Mary’s perfume of brokenness as flagrance of Christ, suggests ‘a smell not to counteract death,’ but to ‘erase death’s smell, or try to overpower its stench.’ Mary, a flagrance of Christ counters perfume Christian’s expression of Judas, shaped by his own theology, greed, and gain. Today, there are many expressions of perfume Christian theology, leadership, and fresh expressions with ‘a perfect blend of concern for both social justice and fiscal prudence.’ Perfume Christians like Judas are hypocritical disciples, arrogant, prideful and self-centred. Perfume Christians spreads lies thereby promotes the smell of death and decline. Jesus’ teaching: “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” resonates with the heart of Judas as an example of a perfume Christian and the heart of Mary’s perfume at Jesus feet (Matt. 6:21). The heart of perfume Christians is to please the world while Mary’s heart is at the Holy feet of Jesus.
We cannot pretend that the smells; pain and power of death are not over the family, church and the world in general. The Good News is that, death’s smell, pain and power can really be overpowered by resurrection’s promise. The fragrance of Mary’s perfume strikes a contrast to Jesus’ death and burial. Mary anoints a corpse ‘whereby Jesus is lifted up onto a cross so that He might attract all to himself.’ (Jn 12:32). Rudyard Kipling wrote, “Smells are sure than sounds or sight to make your heart-strings crack.” Mary’s smell attracts people to Jesus in contrast to Judas’ smell with critical stinginess that mistakes discipline for discipleship.
Mary’s smell as fragrance of Christ emits an aroma that saturates the house and the minds of everyone in it and the passionate aroma persist today through disciples with broken alabaster boxes like Mary. Mary’s smell as fragrance of Christ was even too much for Judas that he reacted, all just a matter of his greed. Mary as fragrance of Christ makes Judas uncomfortable. He does not want to hear it in the public square. Judas’ attitude speaks to us today through his self-centred attitude and disapproval, calling Mary’s perfume of brokenness and true worship a waste. Judas’ attitude speaks to us through his false posture and concern for the poor that was not motivated by the love for Christ. Judas’ smell is a smell of greed that enslaves people spiritually. Mary’s smell as fragrance of Christ not only spread the impending crucifixion of Jesus but for ‘the scent of salvation to pervade the world.’ Fragrance from Mary’s perfume of brokenness is often used in the Bible as a metaphor for a sacrificial offering. Judas’ hypocrisy and unbelief makes us more aware of Mary’s love for Jesus.
Paul’s description and reference to Christians as a fragrance, that spreads the knowledge of God calls us to personal renewal in this Lenten season (2Cor 2:14-16). How many people have you spread the knowledge of God to during this Lent? Mary’s act that was fragrant as well as flagrant calls us to arise and spread God knowledge around us in order to overcome sign of death and decline around us being spread by perfume Christians like Judas. There is no neutrality is discipleship just as there is no neutrality is wearing perfume. One is either a true disciple with true love shaped by Mary’s perfume of brokenness or a false disciple with false love shaped by Judas, a perfume Christian. Judas’ heart is a heart of falsehood and unbelief just as Mary’s heart is a heart of love that long for eternity. It is easier for Judas to market service rather than salvation because of his mind blinded with covetousness and unbelief, and yet pretending godliness. Lent calls us to respond to God’s invitation with a broken and contrite heart like Mary. Lent is a time to stop and repent from resisting God’s grace bearing in mind ‘that privilege of position is no substitute for faith and obedience.’