Mark 14 records a fateful dinner that would witness the establishment of two monuments. As a result of those dinners, two legacies were secured. Mary, on account of her selfless sacrifice and lavish worship, is forever remembered for her generosity. Judas, on account of his propensity to be offended and his coin-counting demeanor, is forever remembered for his treachery.
Let’s set the scene. Jesus is in Bethany, three miles outside of Jerusalem where pilgrims who couldn’t afford or fit into Jerusalem would stay during the festival seasons. Imagine that. Jesus, the true Passover Lamb, couldn’t even afford to stay in the Holy City during the Passover festival. Jesus is at a party with Mary, Martha, Lazarus, and Simon the Leper. His death is impending. The plot to take his life has already been set into motion by His opponents. The party has been somewhat typical to the point. The group of friends gathered to celebrate in a spirit of festivity and were undoubtedly laughing, swapping stories, and sharing good food and wine. Can you imagine the stories told at the dinner table amid the Passover excitement?
Simon: “You guys, have I ever told you about the time that Jesus healed my leprosy? He must really love me….”
Lazarus: “Well, I have one for you…”
Then, all of a sudden, the party became anything but typical. “3 As He was reclining at the table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over His head. 4 There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? 5 For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her” (Mark 14:3-5).
We know from John’s Gospel that this is Mary, the sister of Lazarus. But, in Mark’s account, she remains nameless. It’s as if Mark wants to remind us that the act was the significant thing, not the person performing the act. Her obeisance to Jesus is the theme of the passage. We would all do well to remember that our ministry, our worship, and our feats for the Kingdom are never about us. Mark’s account and the story of our lives have but one hero, and His name is Jesus.
Each Gospel includes a story of a woman worshiping at Jesus’ feet. The best we can tell, Mark, Matthew and John all record the same event. Luke 7, however, presents a different perfume-pouring, foot washing story. Luke’s account, interestingly enough, also takes place in the house of a Simon. This is Simon the Pharisee, and Luke’s story is about a sinful woman who is overwhelmed with gratitude for what Jesus has done. Because she has been forgiven much, she loves much. She is contrasted, then, with the inhospitable Simon who perceives to have only needed a little forgiveness and, therefore, shows little love. There is obviously nothing wrong with worshiping Jesus for what He has done. But Mary, the sister of Lazarus, seems to take her worship a step further by honoring Him simply for who He is. There is no connection of her act to something that Jesus had done. She was simply aware that His days on earth were waning and wanted to express honor for who He was and for the life that He had lived.
Mary’s gift was precious and costly, worth at least 300 denarii according to her detractors! Despite the preciousness of the gift, Mary didn’t ration out her love for Jesus. She poured it out.
Too often, we ration out our devotion.
I’ll give this, but not a cent more.
I’ll serve, but they better not ask too much.
I’ll worship, but I’m never going to be the emotional type.
I’ll say yes to God’s call, but I’m never going to change who I am.
But, pouring out your life for Jesus requires a breaking, not a pouring. Mary’s act couldn’t be undone. The vial was broken and could never be repaired. May we live in such a way. No partial surrender. No half-hearted commitment. No hedging our bets. No keeping Plan B on the table. Also, the breaking of the perfume undoubtedly impacted other people. The scent of the perfume would have filled the air. Though it was meant only for Jesus, everyone else in the room surely caught a whiff of the aroma. In the same way, ministers of Jesus pour out our lives for Him and, as a result, see others greatly impacted. When we first and foremost consider ourselves as ministers to Him, we most effectively minister to others.
This lavish display was not received well by the others at the party. Many became indignant, particularly Judas according to John 12. ”It could have been sold and given to the poor,” they cried! One thing that I’ve learned in my years in ministry is that criticism happens almost any time people get together, even when Jesus is in the room. This is such a sad scene, because it could have been so beautiful. Only days from the cross, the others could have joined in and bowed down and poured their love and affection on Jesus. He wasn’t at the home of a Pharisee. He wasn’t dining with his religious adversaries. These are the people that He had poured into, healed, and raised from the dead. They could have sung songs, given gifts and celebrated His life. Yet, a critical spirit robbed them of this opportunity. How often have we allowed a critical spirit to rob us of joy? We miss all that is right because all we can see is all what’s wrong.
I believe that many pastors and leaders have found themselves in the position of Mary the last several months. Despite the opposition that we’ve faced, we have continued to press forward. We have remained steadfast in these perilous times, ignoring the tug to quit or to back down. We have broken the vial and going back isn’t an option. However, there are plenty of critics on the sidelines. They aren’t pouring out their lives. They aren’t offering their gifts. They aren’t breaking their vials. Yet, they feel qualified to stand back and critique and analyze. I dare to believe that if those gathered at Simon’s house would have joined Mary in worship, then they wouldn’t have had time to do the math and decide whether or not the value of her offering was appropriate.
We have seen the lavish act of Mary. We have heard the sharp critique of the crowd. Now, we await the response of Jesus. Given Jesus’ passion for the poor, perhaps He would side with the critics. It really might have been better to have sold the perfume and given the proceeds to the poor. Maybe Jesus feels uncomfortable with such a profligate display. I can just imagine the anxiety swelling up in Mary. What if she had made a big mistake? What if Jesus didn’t approve? Every eye in the room was fixed on Jesus as He assessed Mary’s deed:
“Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial” (Mark 14:6-8).
It was “beautiful.” What I wouldn’t give to know that I did something that Jesus found beautiful! “She has done what she could.” You don’t have to do what God can do. You don’t have to do what I can do. You have to do what you can do. Her deed was appropriate for the funeral. Rarely does one object to the cost of a funeral. Apparently, Mary had a level of discernment that the others did not. Three times in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus had predicted His death. She believed Him and was giving Him His burial anointing early. I’ve never heard someone stand over a casket and say, “I think I told them that I loved them too often.” Mary didn’t wait until Jesus’ death to show Him the honor He was due.
The critics do not have the final say in Mary’s story or in your story. We strive to live a life that Jesus finds beautiful, so that we can hear those fateful words, “Well done.” I can deal with someone calling my life wasteful, as long as Jesus calls it beautiful. Mary’s deed has long outlived her. “And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her” (Mark 14:9). He knew the death, burial, and resurrection would be preached throughout the ages, and Mary is a part of the story.
But, Mary isn’t the only one who secured a legacy that night. “Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. And when they heard it, they were glad and promised to give him money. And he sought an opportunity to betray him” (Mark 14:10-11). He complained that 300 denarii was too much to spend on Jesus, but that 30 pieces of silver was just enough to betray him. Judas claimed that Mary’s perfume was wasted, but Jesus calls the life of Judas wasted.
John 17:12, “While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.”
Judas had every opportunity, but he wasted it. He was supposed to be Apostle Judas and have a position along with Apostle Matthew, Apostle Peter, and Apostle John. But, he wasted it. Mary is remembered because of what she gave; Judas is remembered because of what he took. You will be remembered either by what you give or by what you take. Do you give life to a room? Do you give ministry? Do you give financially? Do you give honor and encouragement? Or, do you take these things? I am willing to waste my life on Jesus, so that Jesus won’t see my life as wasted.