By J.R. Miller
We enter now upon the last events of our Lord's life. We are within two days of the Passover. We have a glimpse of the plotting of the priests and elders, and their desire to take Jesus by subtlety to kill Him. They wished, however, to wait until after the feast, fearing excitement and tumult, and had so determined. The culmination of the plot was hastened, however, by the unexpected treachery of Judas.
The incident of the anointing is given here apparently out of its proper order, probably because of its influence on the treason of Judas. The incident occurred, according to John's gospel (12:1-8), six days before the Passover. Judas was offended by Christ's rebuke of his criticism of Mary's anointing, and under the sting of this, went to the priest, offering to betray Christ.
Bethany was a sacred place to Jesus. There He found a home of love where His heart was rested many a time after the conflicts and controversies of the day in the temple. There His greatest miracle was wrought--the raising of Lazarus. We know Martha and Mary well. They differed in their dispositions--but they were alike in their warm and loyal friendship for Jesus.
These two sisters had each her own way of expressing her love for her Friend. The other evangelists tell us that Martha served--Martha
always served. There are certain people that we never fail to recognize by some unmistakable feature. We always know Peter by his impulsiveness. We know John by his lying upon the Savior's bosom at the last supper. We know Thomas as the man who doubted. We know Felix as the man who trembled, and then sent the preacher away for a more convenient season. We recognize Martha wherever we see her, by her serving. She represents those whose love for Christ takes the practical form, rather than the form of meditation and devotion.
Some people like to criticize Martha and find fault with her; but after all, her type of piety is important in this world where there is so much need for service and ministry. Beautiful as the Mary spirit is, it would not do if all were Marys, for who then would do the work of serving that needs so much to be done? A wife and mother, for instance, who would spend all her time in Bible reading and prayer, giving no thought to her household duties--would not make a very happy home.
The picture of Mary is also familiar. We see her three times in the Gospels, and each time she is in the same posture--at Jesus' feet. When we have our first glimpse within the Bethany home, we find Martha in her characteristic attitude--serving; and Mary we see sitting at the Master's feet, eagerly listening to His words. Our next view of Mary, is when Jesus came back to Bethany after the death of Lazarus, and the sisters came out to meet Him. Again, she is at the feet of Christ, this time in deep sorrow, seeking comfort. And here again we find her at the Master's feet, and now it is in an act of honor and an expression of love and gratitude to Him.
We think of Mary, therefore, as a woman who was always at Christ's feet. In the bright, happy days, she sat there as a learner. When grief was in the house and Jesus came, she went to His feet for comfort. Then when the trouble was over, we find her again in her familiar place, honoring Him with her heart's richest and best gifts. There is no fitter place for the redeemed life--than at the Master's feet!
Mary came in during the feast and anointed Jesus. We must distinguish this anointing from another by a woman who was a sinner. That anointing was an expression of penitence; this was an outburst of grateful love. Mary brought the best she had, the richest gift in all her possession. Her ointment was very costly. We should bring our best to Christ. No ointment in the world is half so precious to Him--as the love of a human heart; we should bring Him our best love, giving Him the first place in our affection. We should give Him the best of our life, the best of our time, and the best of our service.
It seems a sad pity that any occasion so sacred as this, should be marred by human littleness and baseness. The disciples had indignation. "Why this waste?" they asked. John tells us that Judas led in the criticism, and when we know this--we are not surprised. Judas thought it was waste when the ointment was poured out on the feet and head of Jesus. There still are many people who think everything wasted, which is not coined into dollars, or that does not show in direct practical usefulness. But the truth is, that much of the richest and sweetest blessing scattered in this world, is the fragrance from the breaking of alabaster boxes. It is well to give food and clothing to the poor--but sometimes love and sympathy are better.
But the truth is, the fragrance of love always carries a blessing wherever it reaches. Besides, Christ looks into the heart and is pleased with love there, whether the expression of the emotion takes the form of garments for the poor--or flowers for the sick room.
It is beautiful to read how promptly Jesus came to Mary's relief when she was blamed. "Why are you bothering this woman?" He asked. It was a shame for big, strong men like the apostles--to pounce with such ill manners and cowardly rudeness--on a timid young girl like Mary. They ought to have been gallant enough to encourage and praise her deed of love.
"She has done a beautiful thing to Me!" said Jesus. This was what gave her act distinction and honor--it was wrought for the Master.
Anything done for Christ is lifted up to honor. It is this that makes all lowly Christian service beautiful--it is something done for Jesus. Judas had said the money ought to have been given to the poor. But Jesus said they could always do good to the poor--but they could not show kindness to Him much longer.
Then Jesus said further that this ointment had been poured on His body to prepare Him for burial. Mary probably did not know He was so near death--but Jesus knew it and accepted the honor as for His funeral. We do not know half the real meaning of our lowliest deeds of love! In Mark's Gospel (14:3-9) we read that Jesus said: "She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial."
Many people would have kept that box sealed up, to anoint His cold and dead body. When a man dies, there is never any lack of kind words about him, nor of flowers for his coffin. This is all well in its place--but Mary's way is better. Let us not wait until our friends are gone, before we show our love for them--but rather, let us bring our ointment while they are alive to enjoy its fragrance. Fill the lives of your friends with sweetness; speak approving, cheering words--while their ears can hear them and while their hearts can be blessed by them. The flowers you mean to send for their coffins--send to brighten and sweeten their homes before they leave them! Let us learn the lesson today--to anoint our friends beforehand for their burying.