A Clever Verse for Context
The house was filled with the fragrance (osmē) of the perfume (John 12:3b).
Our NRSV Bible translation would have us believe that the smell (osmē) of Mary’s costly perfume is a sweet thing, a fragrance. In reality osmē is a neutral term; determined as good or bad by context. To Mary, the perfume smells of miracles and answered prayers. It carries the scent of holiness. For Judas the perfume smells like decadence, excess wealth, and waste. I am reminded of Aaron Burr’s remark to Angelica in the Broadway Musical Hamilton, “your perfume smells like your daddy’s got money.” But good or bad, the smell fills the entire house, no one is left unaware. Not unlike the God’s presence: felt by some as consolation, others as discomfort, and others as urgency. Regardless, God fills all creation, pervasive and persistent as Mary’s perfume.
In Greek, the word osmē is used of both foul and pleasant smells. For example, the chorus of Aristophanes’ Peace speaks of the “terrible smells (osmē) of animal hides” (Peace 753), while a servant character in Aristophanes’ Assemblywomen speaks of choosing the wine “that has the best smell (osmē), (Assemblywomen 1124).
Clever Questions for Further Reflection
What smells have been particularly memorable in your life? What or who do you associate them with?
In what different ways have you felt the presence of God? (Comfort, urging, inspiration, etc.)
A Clever Prayer to Close
I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God[f] put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.