Then Jesus six days before the Passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead.There they made him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him.Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus. John 12:1-3
Many years ago as we sat through an average Sunday service our pastor began to preach about the cross. First he described the terrible beating that Jesus received and then how the crown of thorns was pressed down on his head. “Next they took the nails” pastor went on, “And they drove them through His hands.” While we adults who had heard this message many times sat quietly; suddenly the stillness in the sanctuary was pierced by a tiny voice. “EEEW!” a little girl in the back cried out. The rest of us had heard the message. But in God’s eyes she was the only person actually listening to the message!
In our scripture passage today it seems that just like that little girl; only Mary seemed to be listening. Only she understood that Jesus would not be with them much longer. Jesus had told them many times that He was going to Jerusalem to die. But Mary who chose to sit at Jesus’ feet listening did something to give Jesus her best blessing while she still had time. Others people were celebrating and relaxing at the supper but Mary poured out her alabaster box of perfumed oil on the Master’s feet. Everybody listens to someone. Who you are listening to today? Filling the room we are in with the fragrance of the presence of Christ all depends on listening and then acting on the words of Jesus Christ!
The gospel account of Matthew and John differ slightly in the story of Jesus being anointed at Bethany. Matthew tells us that a woman with an alabaster box anointed his head as kings and priests were anointed in the Old Testament. In her choice of anointing this costly gift gave Jesus the highest honor and glory.
And when Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, a woman came to Him having an alabaster flask of very costly fragrant oil, and she poured it on His head as He sat at the table Matthew 26:6-7
But the story in the book of John tells us that she anointed Jesus feet.and wiped them with her hair.
Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil John 12:3
This anointing was more personal in that she saw his need to have his feet washed and her choice to lavish the perfumed oil on his feet was her act of grateful worship and an expression of pure love.
While thinking over the story of Mary’s act of giving I imagined how she might have begun with anointing Jesus’ head then seeing she still had much remaining in her jar, knelt and lavished all that remained on his feet. The momentary shock of the crowd gave way to harsh and pointed criticism. Her act of worship seemed such a waste of resources for such to them. Why there were certainly more weighty problems among the poor which could have been aided by the value of what she had in that jar.
The picture of Mary simply waiting on her Master’s response captured my imagination and heart. Many of you may feel as Mary did, that you have given your best to glorify Him only to be shunned or criticized. Yet rather than becoming bitter or defensive you look and see that you still have more to give. He will be the one to both receive your lavish gift of worship and to defend you in His own way. I present this simple song tonight in hopes that He will continue to be glorified through our lives and that many will be encouraged to give Him more!
Generally left out of the discussion of passion week is what happened at Bethany. Of all the places where Jesus went during His ministry I find no other place so special to Him as in Bethany,the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. That is where Martha first invited Him and His disciples for supper. Bethany was where Mary learned to sit and listen to Jesus. Bethany was the place where Jesus declared, “I am the Resurrection and the Life!” Bethany was where Lazarus was raised from the dead. Now, Bethany was the special place where Jesus went to prepare for his journey to the cross.
It was while Jesus reclined at the dinner table that Mary set in motion the beauty of that moment that Jesus said was a preparation for His burial. While Jesus sat at the head the table surrounded by the crowd, Mary searched for something she could do. In her heart was born a great longing to do something more.
She quietly slipped away during the activity and from her private quarters brought out the precious alabaster jar. In that jar were a year’s wages stored in perfume. We do not know if it was a gift she received from an admirer or a dowry set aside by her father to present at her marriage. The only thing we know for sure is that the value of the ointment was so high that it shocked the room into silence as she broke it open and poured its contents, first over the head, and then on the feet of Jesus Christ.
The guests were stupefied, and all was quiet. Then at Judas’ prompting the disciples all began to criticise her saying, “Why this waste?” But Mary understood what none of them could see. Only in Mary’s heart was the clear knowledge that soon, this most precious of all men would be gone. This was her time and she chose to use it to lavish Him with pure worship. The gift of her perfumed ointment would linger, so that the disciples could still catch its aroma a few days later at the last supper. The delicate sweetness would have wafted into Judas’ nostrils as he gave the betraying kiss in the garden. The soldiers who beat Jesus would still smell its fragrance when they pressed the crown of thorns down on his head. Then as Jesus bowed that gentle head and gave His life,He would carry Mary’s love gift right to the throne of God.
But does the worship of Bethany flow from my own heart today ? Am I like one of the disciples, focusing only on temporary things and missing seeing the infinite value of Jesus? This is the last day before beginning of the week of all weeks, I remembered that Jesus commanded us to tell again the story of Mary and her gift of worship, wherever the gospel was told. He wanted us to remember because only a worship like hers can carry us beyond the sufferings of this life. Only the perfume of our own alabaster jar will find its way past the world of men and time and into the eternal presence of God.