"Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus' feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples...said, 'Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?"
This story of Mary washing Jesus' feet with perfume is a remarkable one that often gets overlooked by the other remarkable stories leading up to Christ's death and resurrection during holy week. It is a story of extravagance; Mary takes valuable perfume and simply pours it out. The gift is spontaneous, surprising, and extravagant.
In fact, it's such an extravagance that Judas protests that it's a waste of money. Is he right? I think that he best way to understand what's going on in this story is to see it within the context of the larger narrative of the Gospel. Jesus comes and does amazing and extravagant things. People want to make him king in a very physical, traditional, and "Earthly" way. But Jesus denies these kind of wordly gifts and powers, pointing instead to gifts of God that are surprising, spontaneous, and extravagant. Jesus, Son of God, the Great Prophet, and King, allows himself to be crucified as a gift to us all.
Couldn't he have been better used as a worldly ruler, doing miracles, inspiring millions, healing the sick for years to come? Yes, he could have. But he seemed to be offering a different kind of gift, one that leads beyond the world of physical human concerns. Mary's gift of perfume anticipates and mirrors Jesus' extravagant gift of life.