Theresa Wells gives us a beautiful look at the significance of Nard for this week’s edition of Word Nerd Wednesday. May we all be filled with Mary’s sense of identity and purpose as we offer to Jesus our most precious possessions, both in this Christmas season and throughout the new year.
Nard (from spikenard)
Merriam Webster online
1a :a fragrant ointment of the ancients
b :a Himalayan aromatic plant (Nardostachys jatamansi) of the valerian family from which spikenard is believed to have been derived
Easton’s Bible Dictionary
(Heb. nerd), a much-valued perfume (Cant. 1:12; 4:13, 14). It was “very precious”, i.e., very costly (Mark 14:3; John 12:3,5). It is the root of an Indian plant, the Nardostachys jatamansi, of the family of Valeriance, growing on the Himalaya mountains. It is distinguished by its having many hairy spikes shooting out from one root. It is called by the Arabs sunbul Hindi, “the Indian spike.” In the New Testament this word is the rendering of the Greek nardos pistike. The margin of the Revised Version in these passages has “pistic nard,” pistic being perhaps a local name. Some take it to mean genuine, and others liquid. The most probable opinion is that the word pistike designates the nard as genuine or faithfully prepared.
Biblical Significance of Nard
Nard. A weird name for a wonderful smell. It will forever remind me of a woman’s devotion to Jesus, despite loud reproach for her actions. But she was probably accustomed to criticism. Mary was a unique woman, and her actions with this weirdly named perfume are memorable. In fact, Jesus was so pleased with what she did with her nard, He said she would be remembered for all time (Mt 26:13; Mk 14:9). The story of Mary, Jesus and nard is in Matthew 26, Mark 14, and John 12.
In John 12:1-8, NIV we read:
“Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.
“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.””
Other versions of this story occur in Matthew 26:6-13 and Mark 14:3-9.
The woman’s identity: Mary, sister of Lazarus and Martha
This woman is Mary, of Mary and Martha fame. She’s one of the sisters of Lazarus (John 11:2), who probably has grown accustomed to taking heat for doing her own thing. The three times she’s mentioned in Scripture, she’s at Jesus’ feet: Luke 10:38-42; John 11:28-32; John 12:1-8.
The woman’s instrument: Nard
Mary worshiped with nard. What was it like to witness this woman breaking the beautiful alabaster jar of costly perfume over Jesus’ head, and spreading it over His feet with her hair. The whole house filled with the perfume of her worship. I imagine the guests sat in stunned silence, until Judas rudely interrupted.
The woman’s intention: To Prepare
Mary’s purpose in anointing Jesus with nard could have been misinterpreted as merely gratitude. After all, Jesus had raised her brother Lazarus from the dead. However, Jesus lets us know Mary’s intention in John 12:7: “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.” He states it this way in Matthew 26:12: “When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial.”
Jesus is telling us that Mary knew Jesus would die soon! She knew and believed, so much that she spent the equivalent of a whole year’s wages on a pint of expensive perfume, nard, to prepare his body beforehand for burial.
How did Mary know this, yet the disciples did not?
I believe Jesus tells us, in Luke 10:38-42, when He spoke to Martha, saying Mary chose what is better (listening to Him), “and it will not be taken away from her.” Mary spent her time listening to Jesus. She sat at His feet, soaking up His words, His presence, and got to know Him. She heard Him, believed Him, and acted on His words when she bought the precious nard.
Mary blessed Jesus by anointing Him with nard, mere days before his torturous death. Though the Bible doesn’t tell us Mary’s response to Judas’ and the disciples’ scoffing, I think she kept her eyes on Jesus. Mary knew her Savior well, and she knew her purpose was to bring Jesus glory by anointing Him with nard. It was her act of worship, her preparation for His burial.
What can we do?
What can we do this week to learn from Mary’s example? Can we stop talking and just listen to the Lord, like Mary did? Can we ask God to help us know our purpose, like Mary knew her purpose? Can we ask God to help us endure when we’re criticized, like Mary?
We might not be able to anoint Jesus’ body with nard, but we can worship Him through sitting at His feet and soaking in His presence every chance we get, like Mary.
Teresa Wells is a former educator who loves Bible literacy, laughing, and coffee. She and her husband live in Dallas, Texas and are the parents of three beautiful young women, one of whom has autism. Teresa’s favorite word is “Grandma,” especially when her three grandkids shout it at the top of their lungs! Blog: www.teresawells.com.
Linking Up With
For more encouragement please join the discussions on these fabulous blog link ups – Suzanne Eller, Thought Provoking Thursday, Susan B. Mead, Faith Filled Friday, Grace and Truth, Faith and Fellowship Friday, Grace and Truth Friday, Good Morning Monday, Soul Survival, Monday Musings, Rah Rah Link Up, Tell His Story, Woman to Woman Wednesday, Women With Intention Wednesday, Sitting Among Friends, Testimony Tuesday, Planting Roots, and Fresh Market Friday.