While the king was at his table, my perfume spread its fragrance. Song of Songs 1:12.
This Song of Solomon has, for centuries, been read by Christians as a kind of allegory; a description of the intimate relationship that would exist between Jesus and his church — for it wonderfully describes the wooing of a beautiful maiden by a shepherd-king. And viewed in that light, this verse takes on a special significance when I read it now, in Holy Week. The king is at table and the maiden’s perfume — the Hebrew is nêrd, that is spikenard — spreads its fragrance; just as in John 12, as Jesus was reclining at supper six days before he was to die, “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. (John 12:3).
Was Mary consciously re-enacting the scene in Song of Songs 1:12? We shall never know. But we do know that she had an immense love for and devotion to Jesus. When he visited the home of Mary, her sister Martha and her brother Lazarus in Bethany, she would “sit at his feet” and hang onto his every word (Luke 10:39). After Lazarus died, she came to Jesus and “fell at his feet” (John 11:32) And now she anoints his feet with perfume and wipes them with her hair.
The act is doubly-shocking. First, as Judas was quick to point out, the perfume was worth a small fortune and, instead of being wasted, could have fed dozens of Jerusalem’s poor for months. (It was probably Mary’s investment for her future — portable, inflation-proof and easily hidden.) But second (and the text does not actually state this), in that place and time it was absolutely taboo for a woman to let down her hair for anyone other than her husband, and never in public.
But Mary is letting her hair down for her husband; for she acts here for the whole church — the bride of Christ. She gives Jesus here the costly devotion of the maiden to her shepherd-king. She treats him here as I would treat him if I truly loved him as I should.
Take my love; my Lord I pour
At Thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself, and I will be
Ever, only, ALL for Thee.