Monday, May 23, 2016
Mary of Bethany - extravagant love
Do you love the Lord?
Well, of course, you answer.
I love Him with all of my heart and my soul, you say.
But how much, really?
I heard a pastor once say that true worship is when we sacrificially surrender to Jesus something that is precious to us. It could be money, or a material item. It could be our time. It could be almost anything.
In our story this week, it was an alabaster container of precious perfume.
This is one of the stories that is recorded in all four of the gospels; we find it in slightly differing details in Matthew 26, in Mark 14, in Luke 7, and in John 12.
Some people get really caught up in arguments about those different details. They will argue, fuss, and fight about whether or not there are two different annointings, or who the lady was, or anything else they can find to dispute. That's their thing, and they enjoy it. I would encourage all of us to read the four different accounts (details at the bottom of this post) and study it for ourselves. I'm hoping that we can draw some important things to learn in our journey to become more Christlike, without getting into the weeds of argument. (Grin)
Our story takes place just before the triumphant entry into Jerusalem, when Jesus would ride in on the back of the donkey. Mark identifies the location as the house of Simon the Leper in Bethany -- we know virtually nothing about Simon, except that apparently he had suffered from the dreaded disease of leprosy, and the Jesus must have healed him.
In John's gospel, the woman is identified as Mary of Bethany, and he notes that Martha was serving at this meal and Lazarus (whom Jesus had raised from the dead) was sitting with Jesus. This has all led to some supposing that Simon may have been a relative of theirs. As Jesus sits with everyone, and all are enjoying the meal, Mary enters with her alabaster box of perfume. One gospel account notes that this is spikenard -- that is an oh, so, expensive import from the land of India. That tiny container of spikenard would have the same value as an entire year's salary for a common person of the day. Perhaps this was part of Mary's dowry, the special things set aside to go with her when she married. Perhaps, instead, it was part of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus' wealth. In any case, it was very costly, and an extravagant and sacrificial gift.
It was a custom in that ancient culture to wash the feet of the guest to whom you extended the hospitality of your home and food. It was also customary to anoint the head of that guest. Mary goes way beyond; John's gospel says that she anointed Jesus' feet and wiped them with her hair -- and then she broke the tiny container and anointed Jesus' head.
What an outcry! Murmuring all around, and eyebrows raised. Voices, too! Judas is the loudest, protesting that Mary has wasted this precious perfume . . . after all, she should have sold it and given the money to the poor, instead of doing this. Oh, how this must have stung the worshipful heart of Mary. After giving all she had, and pouring out her heart and her perfume as an act of worship, she hears the disciples and other onlookers criticizing her.
Ah, but listen to how quiet the room is now. Only Jesus is talking -- He puts a stop to their criticism. He tells them to leave her be! He says that she has done a good work for Him; they can help the poor anytime they want to, but they won't have many more opportunities to show Him their devotion. He had told them several times before that He would be put to death in Jerusalem, and He tells them that Mary's act of worship and love will be the anointing for His death. (It was customary to first bathe and then anoint the body of a dead person before burial, and the container that had been emptied was broken and laid in the tomb along with the body.) Jesus knew that He would be put to death as a common criminal, and so He would not receive the proper anointing.
Jesus went on to tell them that wherever His gospel was preached, Mary's act of love would be remembered. And here we are today, studying Mary's extravagant love.
Please read these passages and join me next time: Mark 14:1-11. Matthew 26:6-13, John 12:1-8, Luke 7:36-50.