In Isak Dinesen’s 1958 short story, “Babette’s Feast,” we see Babette Hersant, a 19th century French chef from Paris, seek political asylum in the Jutland region of Denmark in the home of two pious Protestant sisters who lead the local religious community begun by their deceased father. The sisters, along with their community, live a life of simplicity and frugality. They eat the plainest of meals. That is, until Babette wins 10,000 francs from a Parisian lottery ticket. As a gesture of gratitude to the sisters and their community who have given her refuge, she uses the proceeds to lavish them with the finest French dinner money can buy. A meal, at first deemed wasteful, becomes one that nourishes not only the physical appetite of this austere community, but also their barren spirits.

Mary’s costly nard used to wash Jesus’ feet is anything but wasteful. 

While Judas feigns objection to Mary’s extravagant action, Jesus applauds her. He praises her for such a selfless and costly gift. Like Babette’s 10,000 francs, Mary’s jar of nard is an act of gratitude. It is thanksgiving for all that he has done for her and her sister Martha in restoring the life of her brother, Lazarus. And for Jesus, it represents more than a simple thank offering. It is an anointing of his body for burial even before the crucifixion has deprived it of life. 


Many of us have probably lavished a spouse, a child, or a significant other with a seemingly over-the-top gift. How might we do the same for Jesus? What is the costly nard in our lives that we are willing to give to Jesus out of our gratitude for him? 


Lord, we are misers when it comes to generosity. We get, but we often don’t give. We save and store for ourselves and our own as it meets our needs. Our fear is scarcity, although you have given us plenty. Would you teach us to give like Mary, both out of our abundance and beyond our abundance? May we be grateful and from this gratitude pour out our very lives in service to you. Amen. 

The Art

The art in our title image is a detail of Salvningen af Jesu fødder (Mary Anoints Christ’s Feet) by Danish painter Niels Larsen Stevns (1864–1941) in 1907. To see the entire image or download, see Wikimedia Commons.

<i>Salvningen af Jesu fødder (Mary Anoints Christ's Feet)</i> by Danish painter Niels Larsen Stevns (1864 –  1941) in 1907. Mary anoints Jesus' feet while he defends her to the disciples.

TPW's Holy Week Meditation Series

Join us this Holy Week as Scott Bullock leads us through thoughtful meditations every day, perfect for busy pastors (and others!) seeking a moment of calm and to focus on our Lord. A new meditation will be posted on the TPW blog every day—and if you wish, you can download a copy of the whole series below.

Scott Bullock is a Board Member and Contributor with The Pastors Workshop. He is an ordained Presbyterian minister who has served churches in Illinois, New Jersey, and California. He holds an MA in New Testament Studies from Wheaton College, an MDiv from Fuller Theological Seminary, and a ThM in New Testament from Princeton Theological Seminary. Scott is married with three teen-aged children.

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