We have all heard the familiar idiom repeated time and again. Well, she did what she could…used in almost an apologetic sense, as if the person was not capable of much, so we didn’t expect much from them, they simply did what they could. Little could we imagine that this one simple phrase would be heralded around the world, in thousands of languages and tongues, describing a deed performed by someone who, at the time, had no thoughts of the immortality of that deed, a deed that remains as vibrant and moving today as it was two thousand years ago.
The scene is set in the small village of Bethany, located a “Sabbath’s day’s journey” (about two miles) east of Jerusalem. Situated on the well-traveled road to Jericho, this seemingly insignificant town would play a vital role in prophesy, for the Mount of Olives was located within her borders. But today would be a very special day in Bethany, for Jesus would be passing through that village on His way to Jerusalem. The sacrificial Lamb was on a mission to offer His blood as the ultimate payment for the sins of the world, and on that solemn journey toward the cross, He would pass through Bethany this one last time.
Mary, Martha, and their brother Lazarus were anxiously awaiting the moment when they would once again greet their special Friend. A meal and reception were being planned at the home of Simon, a leprous man who had previously received a healing touch from the Great Physician. What a grand time it was when the Guest arrived on the scene! Oh, the joy they shared listening to the only-begotten Son of God, enjoying a time of fellowship with His closest disciples, gleaning wisdom directly from the lips of the Creator of the universe! But it would be Mary who would sense the solemnness of the occasion. It would be Mary who, in the midst of this happy group, would realize the burden that Jesus was carrying. He would, in just a few days, bear in His spotless, holy body the ugly stench of the sins of a wicked world. In that moment of sacrifice, He would be separated from His Father. He would be betrayed and beaten. He would die.
Somehow the disciples never fully grasped the reality of their Master’s upcoming death, but Mary did; she was sensitive to it. Oh, how she loved Him, for it was He Who had raised her brother from the dead, it was He Who had transformed her from within and led her to eternal life. How she savored those moments spent at His feet, listening to her dear Friend! Mary had such a deeply embedded love for Jesus that she was moved to action. She would take her most valuable possession, her alabaster box filled with the rich scent of spikenard. She would break that box, allowing the fragrant oil housed within to bathe the body of her Savior in preparation for the dreadful death awaiting Him.
In Western culture, the ritual of anointing with oil may seem strange, but in Eastern culture, anointing was a beautiful ritual, one reserved for kings, prophets, and priests. Mary knew that this Man, Jesus, filled all of those roles, for He was her Messiah. Because that “ointment of spikenard” was so valuable and so costly, Mary was immediately criticized, not for the insufficiency or meagerness of her gift, but (and don’t miss this) for the extravagance of her gift. The fragrance filled the room, the village, the nation, the earth, and the memory of that moment has never faded away. “Let her alone,” whispered the One Who was the recipient of this act of love. “She hath done what she could.”
Much like a benevolent millionaire donating exorbitant monies to the work of the Gospel, an eloquent speaker preaching a marvelously stirring sermon, a gifted teacher making the Word of God come to life for her class, or an artist expressing his love for God by the craft of his hands, Mary did what she could. Her deed would stand the test of time, for the source of her action was her unbridled, extraordinary love for God. Her love had to be extravagant, for was not the love of God bestowed upon her extravagant?
What can I do for the love of Jesus? In preparation for writing this post, I read a moving story shared by W.A. Criswell, and my heart was immediately stirred and convicted. A group of multimillionaire industrialists traveled to Africa to witness a doctor ministering to colonies of leprous children in Nigeria. If you were to give me a million dollars a day, doctor, I wouldn’t do what you do, remarked one of the stunned men in that wealthy group. Dr. Goldie’s response was this: Kind sir, if they offered me all the money in the world, I wouldn’t do it either. But I am gladly doing it for the love of Jesus.
I am gladly doing it for the love of Jesus. Do I have an alabaster box to break at His feet? What extravagant act am I doing simply for the love of Jesus?
! John 4:19 We love him, because he first loved us.
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