Did you know Christ prophesied that one specific act by one specific woman would be proclaimed everywhere the gospel is preached in all the world?
It was near the end of Christ's ministry, and though He had become more specific and serious about His impending sacrifice, it seems His disciples still did not "get it." This was not what they expected of the promised Messiah—the conquering King prophesied in the Old Testament.
But at a dinner at Simon the leper's house, something extraordinary happened. Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus (the one whom Christ had recently raised from the dead), did a surprising, extravagant and even seemingly foolish thing. We find the story in Matthew 26:6-13, one of three Gospel accounts that record this memorable incident.
"And when Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, a woman came to Him having an alabaster flask of very costly fragrant oil, and she poured it on His head as He sat at the table" (Matthew 26:6-7).
If we read the parallel scriptures in Mark 14 and John 12 we see that the oil wasn't just poured on His head, but also on His feet. It was a very rare and expensive perfume—some sources say it may have come from India.
We don't normally think of honoring someone this way, but the NIV Bible Commentary points out that in those days, "A distinguished rabbi might have been so honored."
Continuing the story, Matthew wrote, "But when His disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, 'Why this waste? For this fragrant oil might have been sold for much and given to the poor'" (Matthew 26:8-9).
All the disciples were saying this, but John 12:4 makes clear that the leading voice was that of Judas Iscariot, who carried the money box. His concern wasn't genuine, as he actually stole from the box. But still, the rest of the disciples joined in rebuking Mary for this perceived waste. After all, Mark 14:5 says it was worth more than 300 denarii—a year's wages for a laborer!
What would I have thought if I had been there? I can't imagine owning a container of perfume worth about a year's wages! I'm the kind of person who uses a little stub of a pencil rather than throwing it out. One thing that bothers me about restaurants is how much food gets thrown out. Waste not, want not—that's my motto.
I probably would have been picking on Mary like the rest of them. And hadn't Jesus just told His disciples about the importance of serving the poor in Matthew 25—the parable of the sheep and the goats? "I was hungry and you gave Me food," Christ had said. Couldn't a year's wages be put to better use than just being poured out and wasted?
But surprisingly, Christ didn't agree.
"When Jesus was aware of it, He said to them, 'Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a good work for Me'" (Matthew 26:10-11).
Once again the disciples had been so sure they were right, and Jesus surprised them, rebuking them for criticizing Mary. For Judas Iscariot, this was the last straw, and he soon set out to betray his Master and Friend for just 30 pieces of silver.
Many experts believe that these silver coins were tetradrachmas, worth four denarii. If this is true, Judas received 120 denarii, or less than half of what the perfume cost! Mary's freely given devotion to Jesus was worth far more than what it took to buy Judas' betrayal.
Christ said, "For in pouring this fragrant oil on My body, she did it for My burial. Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her'" (Matthew 26:12-13).
Why did Mary do this, and why did Christ say it would be used as an example throughout the world?
The lesson here certainly was not that the poor weren't important, or that waste is permissible. But the story does have a powerful way of making us reexamine what is truly important.
What was in Mary's mind?
Let's consider it from Mary's perspective. This was not long after her beloved brother Lazarus had been raised from the dead. What's an incredible miracle like that worth?
She believed that Jesus was the Christ, our Creator and Ruler! What's it worth to be treated as a friend by the Son of God?
And here at dinner, just days before His sacrifice, it seems Mary was beginning to understand that Christ was willing to die for us and to give us eternal life. Again, what's that worth?
Halley's Bible Handbook (2000) puts it this way on page 702: "Jesus probably had spoken of His coming crucifixion. Mary—kindhearted, compassionate, thoughtful, lovely Mary—perhaps noticing a look of pain in His eyes, said to herself, 'This is no parable. He means it.'
"And she went and got the rarest treasure of her household and poured it on His head and feet, and wiped them with her hair. Perhaps not a word was said. But He understood. He knew that she was trying to tell Him how her heart ached."
Offering our very best
Mary's example reminds us that God deserves our very best. It shows us that there are times when even a balanced, sound-minded Christian will see the need to honor God by doing something extraordinary. Of course, many today do such things for trivial pursuits. Some give their all for fashion or football or some other pursuit. But we are called to give our all to God.
God's people have always been called to give their all—their very best—to Him. Noah risked his reputation and a large portion of his life in building a huge vessel away from the sea. The widow gave her last two mites to God. Of course, we would receive much more attention if we could give a one-time, memorable sacrifice rather than small, minute-by-minute sacrifices that make up the real living sacrifice God calls us to be (Romans 12:1).
Putting God first—giving our best to Him—really isn't about being unbalanced but about being truly balanced. We can't truly put God first and neglect our families or our health. Taking care of all of the priorities is part of the sacrifice.
Of course we should remember balance, remember wisdom and remember the poor. But we can also remember Mary, and her example that Christ said would be preached throughout the world.
Remember Mary who set us the example of giving the best she had for her Master and Savior—and ours. GN