This story takes place between John 11 and 12.
Martha and Mary are in the kitchen. Martha is at the counter chopping vegetables and humming a song. Mary is sitting on a stool, looking sad and worried. During their conversation, Martha continues working. Mary continues to sit.
Martha leaves the counter and leans out the back door, shouting, "What did you say? Yes, the best lamb, the fattest lamb. Yes, that one! Trim it and roast it. Yes, it is a big celebration and many are joining us. Yes, yes, and please hurry. They will be here soon!"
She looks over at Mary. "Mary, dear, why do you look so sad and depressed? We have so much to celebrate. Remember? Our brother Lazarus is alive and Jesus and all his followers will be here shortly for the meal. Why are you sitting there moping?"
Mary looks up. "Martha, don’t you understand what is going to happen soon? Didn’t you hear what Jesus said?"
Martha stops for a moment and looks into space. "Yes, I remember. He said something like, 'I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.'" (1)
Martha sighs and continues, "I thought he meant at the Last Day.
I never imagined that he would, that he could, raise Lazarus once he was dead."
Mary shakes her head. "No, Martha. I meant the time when he said, 'I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.' (2) Or even before that, when we were with him when he fed the crowds and then later he told us, 'I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.' (3) Did you hear him then?
Martha replies, "Oh, Mary, what does that mean anyway? What are you talking about? You know, sometimes Jesus does not speak directly, but talks in parables. That was probably one of those times."
Mary replies, "No, Martha. He is going to die. That is what he is talking about. Haven’t you looked at his face? He looks so tired, and there is a heaviness about him that seems to penetrate to his soul. Like he is carrying the weight of the whole world on his shoulders."
Martha says, "Don’t be silly, girl. He is going to rescue us! He is the Messiah! He raised Lazarus from the dead! You were there! You saw. No, no, he must have meant something else."
Mary shakes her head. "No, Martha. That was exactly what he meant. I don’t really understand either, but the Pharisees are out to kill him, you know. You heard what Lazarus and his friends said last night! And after tonight, Jesus is going to Jerusalem. Almost like a Passover lamb."
Martha pauses, then shakes her head and laughs. "You have such an imagination girl! Passover lamb! What a thought! Look, we will die soon enough, but dear, tonight we celebrate! Can’t you think of something to do?"
Martha looks around the room and takes notice of the broom. She grabs it and gives it to Mary. "Here, why don’t you sweep the floor? Get your mind off things and it would sure help me!"
Mary takes the broom and sweeps, looking like her mind is miles away. She talks to herself, "Something to do…something to do...Yes, I must do something but what can I do?"
Mary brightens and turns to Martha, "Martha, do you remember the special gift that father left to me? It was a priceless perfume, a bottle of pure nard? Where is it?"
Martha looks up, quizzical. "The nard? What makes you think of that now? My, that nard is worth a year’s salary! It’s the in bedroom with the rest of our family valuables."
Mary looks up, stops sweeping, thinking.
Then there is a shout from outside: "The guests have arrived. The lamb is ready!"
Martha, turns and goes to the outside door. She goes out for a moment and returns with a platter. She looks behind to Mary as she walks past her to the family room, where the guests will be entering.
"Come on, Mary. We are ready now," Martha implores. "Please hurry and try to remember, this is a celebration! Smile!"
Martha goes out. From the other room, you can hear the sounds of people.
Mary looks and makes sure Martha is out of sight, then puts the broom down. She goes to the bedrooms and returns with the extensive-looking bottle of nard. She carefully turns it around and looks at it, holding it carefully to herself. She walks back to the front of the kitchen and says...
"Look, even the bottle is so beautiful! And when I break it open, the room will be filled with it’s fragrance! I know Martha won’t understand. I don’t think any of them will understand. But Jesus will. I have to give him this! It is my most dearest possession, I know, but even this will not be enough to show how much I love him. Before he leaves us, I need him to know, that he means everything to me."
She takes the bottle and goes out to meet the guests.
From the other room you can hear Martha say, "Oh hi Mary! It’s about time! Why don’t you come and help me? Where are you going? What are you doing?"
There is a sound of the bottle breaking.
"Mary!" Martha exclaims, "Was that the nard?"
And angry voice says, "Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year's wages." (4)
And then a different gentle voice, "Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told..." (5)
(1) John 11:25
(2) John 10:11
(3) John 6:51
(4) John 12:5
(5) Matthew 26:10-13