All too often, a self-indicting lament of “could’ve, would’ve, should’ve” comes after an opportunity has passed. We meant to do something. The desire was real! But our good intentions were put off to a later time that never came.
A famous clever story tells of four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody. “There was an important job to be done, and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it. But Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody would not do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done!”
Let this be a wake-up call. A developing disciple of Jesus Christ should not be defined this way. You have not been called to be an Everybody, Somebody, Anybody or Nobody, but to be a child of our Heavenly Father, bearing His name (Isaiah 43:7; Ephesians 3:14-15) and responding to Jesus’ invitation of “Follow Me” in whatever comes our way—getting past self and what others might think or say to seize the moment for God’s glory.
The invitation of “Follow Me” is not always about walking behind Jesus, but equally walking towards Him when everyone else sits there unaware of how short the time may be.
We discover such a story in Scripture regarding Mary of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus. It is her encounter with Christ that leaves one of the loudest messages of how to extinguish the “could’ve, would’ve, should’ve” regrets of life. Her story is recorded in the Gospels of Matthew (26:6-13), Mark (14:3-9) and John (12:2-8), and we will note various aspects of this encounter from each book to gain a fuller picture.
A story for the ages
John’s account opens with Jesus at supper with a resurrected Lazarus (John 12:1). So often we leave Lazarus at his grave site, but here he is dining with others while his other sister Martha is serving the group (verse 2).
We are offered a scriptural snapshot of Lazarus alive and well. Imagine the atmosphere of rejoicing and continual stares at one who was dead but is now feasting with them! Here they are, gathered outside Jerusalem on the other side of the Mount of Olives. Will this be the time, as Passover is just days away, that Messiah will proclaim the great Jubilee and liberation from the Romans?
Little did they understand what was to occur in a short while. The ultimate Passover offering was mere days away, but the disciples did not grasp that He would die, even though He had warned them. Oh, if they’d only known the time was short, what might they have done?
Suddenly their attention was drawn to Lazarus’ sister Mary, who was carrying an ornate alabaster jar filled with an expensive fragrant oil (John 12:3). She broke open the container in front of Jesus and poured its precious contents on His head and feet. The fragrance filled every corner of the room. Several there were consumed by the audacity of this woman and would be further astonished by her last act of drying Jesus’ feet with her hair.
The “could’ve, would’ve, should’ve” crowd rebuked what she did as rash and extravagantly wasteful, saying the oil could have been sold and the money directed to the poor. They were flabbergasted in their own righteousness that “this woman” would lower herself and wipe the Rabbi’s feet with her loosened hair. In their “holy fit” they failed to realize the immensity of what lay just around the corner, while Mary seized the moment to the glory of God as the time was truly short.
“‘Leave her alone,’ said Jesus. ‘Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her” (Mark 14:6-9, New International Version, emphasis added).
The essence of giving glory to God
How was Mary able to walk through and weather the gauntlet of criticism in her path to Christ and avoid the regretful exercise of “could’ve, would’ve, should’ve”? How can we walk in Mary’s steps today towards our Savior who not only says, “Follow Me,” but also “Come unto Me”?
First, Mary sensed and seized the opportunity to express her love and compassion toward this One who was dearest to her. Interestingly, the word “opportunity” derives from Latin roots meaning “toward port”—a journey’s stop or destination to fill needs and purpose. It speaks of meeting with right conditions of wind and tide for entering safe harbor. As these only came at limited times, sailors had to be alert and focused on the goal ahead.
For Mary, wherever Christ was, that was “safe harbor.” And nothing would impede her from seizing the moment and glorifying the Messiah, doing her utmost to serve and comfort Him.
When she broke open the jar in front of everyone, there was no going back. Her Savior whom she loved reclined at the table before her. Whether she fully understood about His impending death or simply acted upon a woman’s intuition of a great personal need on His part, she wanted to be as close as possible to express her love. She understood something was pending and knew “the time was short.”
Second, Mary’s love had no self-imposed price tag on it other than the totality of her love and devotion. She fully offered to Christ a lavish gift that would have cost a year’s wages, not concerned with that cost or what others might say. Plainly stated: Love will do what is needed regardless of the cost! Such godly love, which is outflowing and away from self, desires only that it might give its all plus more—just as Our Heavenly Father gave the priceless gift of His own Son.
Third, the giver must in some way come with the gift for it to be truly heartfelt and personal. Mary’s story awakens us to the reality that God does not want our physical offerings as much as He desires that we have an intimate relationship with Him. Such intimacy comes to light when Mary lets down her hair to wipe Jesus’ feet after anointing them with oil.
This appeared unseemly in that culture, but Mary looked beyond that. So often our witness that we love Christ and are open to follow His ways is stymied by what others think. Mary loved Jesus so much that it outweighed what others thought. Her beautiful act of love to her Savior deepened their intimate spiritual connection.
Mary lovingly anointed Jesus from head to toe. Her actions and Jesus’ acceptance of this lavish personal devotion recall words from Psalm 23, “You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over” (verse 5) despite the “walk through the valley of the shadow of death” (verse 4)—as Jesus Himself would soon experience. Mary seized the moment to glorify God by honoring His Son in His moment of human need. And what she did was used by Him to further present to others what was about to unfold—she was preparing His body for burial (Mark 14:8).
How about us? Rather than live off the excuses of “could’ve, would’ve, should’ve,” we must learn from this devoted disciple of Jesus Christ. She did not miss her opportunity but stepped forward and lovingly moved towards Him—and now for all ages is known for the fact that, in the words of Jesus Himself, “she did what she could.”