By J.R. Miller
"Here a dinner was given in Jesus' honor." The feast was in recognition of the great blessing Jesus had brought to the home in Bethany, in the calling back of Lazarus from death. He had turned their sorrow into joy, and the sisters' hearts were full of gratitude. No wonder they were grateful. There are many homes in which this story is read where there is even greater reason for gratitude than there was in this Bethany household. The dead have been brought back from the graves of spiritual death--and live in joy and beauty. Should not Christ be honored in all such households? There, too, should feasts be made for Him, feasts of love and thanksgiving. In every home, also, in which sorrow has been a guest and where Christ has come bringing comfort, there is reason for gratitude.
There are some people who are well-known in the Gospels by certain features which always appear in them. Wherever she is seen, Martha is known by her serving. Some people criticize her for this feature of life and speak as if she were to blame for the way she took of honoring her Master. It was too material. But Jesus did not say so. He did not reprove Martha for her careful housekeeping, nor for her hearty hospitality, nor for the pains she took to provide well for Him and His disciples. What He reproved in her, was not the serving--but her fretfulness, her worry, and her nervous impatience with her sister Mary, because she did not choose to honor the Master in the same way. While Martha was busy serving, eagerly preparing for a meal for her guests who had come in from their journey, Mary slipped away and sat down at her Guest's feet--to listen to His wonderful words. When Martha saw her there, she was vexed, and giving way to her feeling, chided her, almost petulantly, and spoke almost bitterly to Jesus, as if He ought to send Mary back to her tasks in the household.
It was this that Jesus did not like in Martha--not her serving--but her hurt feeling toward her sister, and her impatient complaint of her to the Master. There is great need for Marthas in the world. Beautiful as is the Mary-spirit, it would not do if all women were Marys, for whom then would do the work which needs so much to be done in countless households? For instance, a wife and mother who would spend all her time in Bible-reading, giving no thought to the domestic duties, would not make a very happy home for her family, and certainly would not bless the Master. There is need for service.
While we recognize Martha by her serving--we recognize Mary also by her place at the Master's feet. We see her always there, and she is always beautiful there. First, she sat there as a learner, drinking in the Teacher's words. Then she came to Him by and by in her great grief, and found comfort. We see her here again in this incident, in the same posture. Now, however, it is at the feast made in Christ's honor. "Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus' feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume." Another Gospel tells us that she first poured the ointment on His head. Her act was an expression of the tenderest, most humble, most reverent love. We should bring Christ--the best we have to bring. The fragrant ointment was a beautiful symbol of the love of a thankful and gentle heart. We should bring Christ our deepest gratitude and purest affection. No words could express the love Mary bore to her Master, so she put it into an act.
The record says "And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume." Indeed, the whole world has been filled ever since that day, with the fragrance of Mary's deed of love. We all should seek to fill our homes with the fragrance of love. While we have our own loved ones about us, we should seek every opportunity to give them the comfort and the joy of love. A home is not made beautiful by expensive pictures on the walls, by rich carpets on the floors, by costly furniture in the rooms, or by beautiful flowers in every corner--but by love which sheds itself abroad in all gentleness, kindness, patience, thoughtfulness, and tenderness.
There always are some to criticize even the beautiful and sacred things which love does. It is said here that even one of the Lord's disciples, found fault with Mary's pure deed. "Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year's wages!" We are not surprised to read in the record that it was Judas Iscariot who began the criticism of Mary's act. He spoke of the pouring out of the nard, as waste. It had been noted that the word "waste" here used by Judas means literally perdition, and we remember that Jesus called Judas the son of perdition; that is, a man who utterly wasted His life. There still are people who think everything wasted, that cannot be coined into dollars or that does not result in immediate or direct practical usefulness. But the truth is, that much of the sweetest blessing scattered in this world, is the fragrance from the breaking of love's alabaster boxes. It does not coin into money. It is well to give food and clothing to the poor--but sometimes love and sympathy are better.
In some places, groups of Christian young people, are in the habit of carrying flowers to sick rooms or to homes of pain and sorrow. These flowers are much like Mary's ointment. They do not feed anyone's hunger, nor put clothing on the backs of children, nor put coal into the stove. But the fragrance of love often carries more real comfort and cheer into homes--than would the largest gifts of charity. Besides, Christ looks into the heart, and He 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. The life that is given to Christ and spent in the service of love--is not lost, not wasted. Love is never lost, even though nothing practical or utilitarian should seem to come of its outpouring. That life alone is wasted--which is emptied out in sin or spent in idleness, selfishness, or self-indulgence.
The keen criticism of the disciples must have pained the heart of Mary beyond measure. But the gracious commendation of her deed which Jesus promptly gave, proved a comfort and brought back the joy. "Leave her alone! Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me!" We cannot know how her loving thought of Him and her sweet honoring of Him, strengthened Jesus for His sorrowful way, how He was helped in His struggle in Gethsemane and in the darkness of His cross by the love that Mary lavished upon Him in her anointing. He said also, "She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial!" We do not know that Mary understood that Christ must die--and that she planned her anointing of Him with distinct reference to that event. But even if she did not, her anointing was most timely. It fit into the need of that hour. It brought great joy to the Master, and the joy came to Him at the time when He craved sympathy and love, and when His burdened heart could appreciate the experience.
In Mark's gospel we have the words, "She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial." Many people would have kept that vase sealed up until after Jesus was dead, and then have brought it out and emptied it on His body. After a man dies, there is never any lack of kind words about him, or of flowers for His coffin. But Mary's way was better. Let us bring our alabaster boxes and break them while our friends are alive to enjoy and be refreshed by the perfume. Let us fill the lives of those who are dear to us with sweetness; speaking approving, cheering, heartening words while their hearts can be warmed and blessed by them. The flowers you mean to send for your friends' coffins--send to brighten and sweeten their homes before they die. Do not keep the alabaster boxes of your love and tenderness sealed up--until they are gone. Speak approving, encouraging words--while their ears can hear them.