Saturday, January 11, 2014

A Beautiful Thing

I’ve been thinking about the story of Mary opening that alabaster jar of perfume and pouring out every bit of it to anoint Jesus.  This is not just any perfume.  Pure nard, the gospel writers all record that it is ‘very expensive’.  In Mark the disciples state the value – a year’s wages.  What’s the old ‘rule of thumb’ for engagement rings?  Two months’ salary?  This is twelve months worth of work. 
I read somewhere that this costly jar was possibly Mary’s dowry or a form of financial security.  In a society where a woman needed to rely on men for safety and well-being, an unmarried woman (Mary appears not to be married) was at risk for exploitation and financial ruin. 

If something bad happened to her brother, this jar would keep Mary and her sister Martha fed and clothed for at least a year.  Lazarus had already been deathly ill.  In fact, he had already died.  If Jesus hadn’t come, the jar might have already been needed.  And now, in one grand gesture, it was gone.

I try to imagine Mary entering the room full of men reclined and enjoying their meal.  What must they all have thought?  Were awkward glances exchanged?  Were throats cleared uncomfortably as the air filled with the smell of nard?  Was there even outrage at seeing something as intimate as her hair let down to wipe Jesus’ feet?

This Mary is the same woman who sat at Jesus’ feet, even though her sister was rushing around trying to pull together a dinner party.  Back then, Jesus told the indignant, self-righteous Martha that while she was worried about many things, her sister had chosen the one thing that mattered.
We’re not told if the disciples witness that earlier exchange.  If they did, they didn’t learn the lesson, because again Mary is present but they are now indignant, and self-righteously judge her.  There are poor people in need!  Look at this waste of resources.  Think of all the good we could have done!

Once again, Mary gets what we miss.  Jesus is not telling His disciples to ignore the poor.  After all, He came to fulfill, not abolish, His Father’s law, which reflects a heart for those without.  He is not absolving us of our responsibility to meet the needs of orphans and widows.
But, I believe He is actually inviting us to go far, far deeper, far, far farther.   

And I need to ask myself hard questions. 
Do I truly believe my future is one hundred percent secure in Christ alone?  If so, am I willing to pour it out on the feet of Jesus?  Am I willing to adore Him in this way, no matter the cost?  Am I willing to ‘waste’ my potential?  Am I okay with the fact that others may see me as foolish? 

Mary didn’t slowly, cautiously, allow one or two drops of precious perfume to drip onto her Lord.  She didn’t spritz Him or put a bit on a handkerchief to give to Him.  Instead, she poured it, all of it, out.  Once it was out of the bottle, there was no getting it back.  She drained her future dry.
And in emptying that jar, Mary anointed for burial the One who had emptied Himself.  Instead of a year’s worth of wages, Jesus gave up His very life.  Jesus promised that Mary’s beautiful sacrifice would be told again and again, whenever the Gospel was shared.  The Gospel which teaches us the only Way, Truth and Life. 

Thank you, Holy Spirit, for fulfilling Jesus’ words, and ensuring that this story was recorded in the gospels.  Move in us, to worship our Savior in the way Mary did.  With abandon and confidence, not worrying about what others think, or what the world says makes sense.  May our lives be a beautiful fragrance that honors You, and You alone.      

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