Several years ago I taught a Sunday School class on the Saint John's Bible, a beautiful hand-calligraphed and illustrated version of the Bible that took several years and a whole team of artists to create. I showed the class a video about how the project came together, and the class was spellbound, as I knew they'd be. The illuminations make you want to lean into the scripture. The Saint John's Bible fosters awe and wonder toward the God who gives us not only the sacred story but also the artists who make it come alive.
Near the end of the video, the narrator shares the cost of this tremendous project.
After the anointing at Bethany, Judas asks why the fragrance wasn't sold and the money given to charity. A more apt question might be why Mary didn't use it on her brother Lazarus, dead just a few days before.
The Resurrection of Lazarus, a triptych from 1461, is the earliest documented work by the French Renaissance artist Nicolas Froment. What is distinctive about it is the scene on the viewer’s right, in which Mary anoints Jesus’ feet as her brother, Lazarus, looks on (John 12:2–3). From the beginning of the interpretive tradition, Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus, had been confused with Mary Magdalene and the anonymous woman who anointed Jesus in the home of Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:36–50), a composite solidified in a sermon by Pope Gregory the Great near the end of the sixth century. As a result, most of the images of the anointing of Jesus in medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque art are set in Simon the Pharisee’s home and frequently carry iconographic elements associated with Mary Magdalene (portrayed with red hair and often in a prostitute’s attire). Here Froment presents a decorously dressed Mary, complete with head covering. Although there is apparent commotion among the onlookers in the background of the scene, the anointing itself is presented as a quiet and dignified act of devotion, in parallel with the opposite panel, which shows Martha, in nunlike attire, kneeling piously before Jesus in order to tell him her brother has died (John 11:32).
In her most recent book, Blessed Are the Consumers, Sallie McFague focuses on kenosis as the key element in shaping a Christian alternative to the pervasive religion of consumerism. McFague says that consumerism consists of those cultural patterns and practices by which people “find meaning and fulfillment through the consumption of goods and services.” We may rightly identify consumerism as a religion.