It’s a well-known story. Near the end of Jesus’s earthly ministry, Mary, the sister of Lazarus, pours an expensive jar of perfume on Jesus’s head and feet. She then proceeds to wipe His feet with her hair as He reclines at the table. Jesus’s disciples see this extravagant display as a waste of resources. They argued that the perfume could be sold and the money given to the poor.
Coming to her defense, Jesus tells the dinner guests that Mary has done a beautiful thing to Him. As a final act of love and devotion to her Lord, Mary was preparing Jesus for His imminent burial.
Jesus goes on to say that wherever the Gospel is preached, the story of what Mary did will be told in her memory. And He was right. Her lavish generosity left a legacy that’s been passed down to this day.
Some may think it odd that Jesus describes Mary’s actions as beautiful. Beauty is that which pleases the senses and brings pleasure to the mind. While typically thought of as something physical or external, beauty encompasses much more. True, lasting beauty is cultivated in the heart and can be overflow in acts of love, generosity, and kindness.
Much can be learned about true beauty from Mary’s example. Mary’s generosity was extravagant. She held nothing back. Rather than sprinkling a few drops of perfume and keeping the rest for herself, she broke the jar and poured out its entire contents. Her selfless gift was given out of love for her Savior. She yearned to put His worth and beauty on display, rather than her own. When you intentionally put others’ needs before your own, that act—like Mary’s—is beautiful in God’s sight.
Mary’s gift was beautiful because it was done in humility. As she anointed Jesus with perfume, Mary wasn’t trying to be seen, praised, or remembered by others. As the perfume’s aroma filled the room, the message came through loud and clear: Jesus was worthy of her costly treasure.
Lavish generosity is beautiful because it’s a picture of how God loves and blesses his people. Our God is a God who delights to give good gifts. As His image bearers, we, too, find joy and purpose in giving and serving. As we do so, we mirror His beauty.
In essence, true beauty reflects the beauty and goodness of the Creator. When we see beauty in the midst of daily life—whether a generous act of mercy, the face of a child or a sunset, flower, or work of art—it is a gift meant to point us back to the Giver.
This isn’t our first encounter with Mary. This same Mary sat at Jesus’s feet as He taught His disciples. All the while, Mary’s sister was busy with meal preparations. But in the end, Mary was recognized as choosing the better thing. May we, like Mary, sit at the feet of Jesus to learn what true beauty is. May this inspire us to give our costliest treasure to spread everywhere the fragrance of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:14).