17 April 2011

She Did What She Could


(A Godly Wife, Mother, or Woman)
Mark 14:3–9 We are here to focus not so much on what we have lost, but on what we have gained because this godly woman came into our lives. We are here because we have hope: not hope with a question mark, but hope with an exclamation point! We are here to acknowledge that death is an enemy, not a friend. It is an enemy of God and of us—an enemy because it destroys life that is in contrast to God, the creator and author of life. We are here to praise Jesus Christ, the conqueror of our ancient enemy. Our hearts and minds are riveted on the only one who has said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies” (John 11:25).
Shortly before Jesus was crucified, he came to the home of Simon the leper. They were having a celebration because of his miraculous healing. Among the guests were some cherished friends of Jesus: Martha, Lazarus, and Mary. While they were talking and enjoying the event, an astounding thing took place. Mary, who loved to sit at the feet of Jesus, knelt unexpectedly beside him, shattered the neck of a flask of expensive perfume, and poured it on Jesus’ head and feet. She wiped the rapidly evaporating perfume from his feet and dried them with her hair. It was a spellbinding moment. This act of devotion is one of the most incredible stories of devotion in Scripture. It speaks of the love, humility, and sacrifice in Mary’s heart. In this magnificent moment, we see the heart of a woman who did all she could for her Savior, as did this one whose life we celebrate today. Her actions were symbolic of her life—a life broken and poured out for Christ and others.
I. Prolific Act
See it as a prolific act. The alabaster vial probably contained perfume imported from India. It was worth a year’s income of a day laborer. A day laborer earned about twenty cents a day, which is equivalent to about sixty dollars for a year’s work. With the inflation of today, we are looking at the equivalent of a gift worth thousands of dollars. To some it was a waste. To Mary, it was the expression of an extravagant love. In this act we see the splendor of a giving, generous heart.
When someone has done something important and good for us, we must express gratitude. At the height of William Faulkner’s writing career, it was reported that his income was so great that it amounted to ten dollars a word. One enterprising young man wrote to Faulkner, saying, “Enclosed is ten dollars. Please send me one of your best words.” In reply, William Faulkner sent back this word: “Thanks.”1
The lady we remember today was also a generous and thoughtful woman.
II. Providential Act
Mary’s act was also a providential act. Jesus reminded the bewildered audience, “You will not always have me” (Mark 14:7). Some opportunities come to us only one time. We must act at the prompting to do the right thing at the right time. It has been said that opportunity does not send letters of introduction.2
Priceless moments remind us of the value of time. The samurai would begin his day meditating on his own death. He would even visualize all the ways he could die on that very day.3 The Bible constantly reminds us of the brevity and uncertainty of life. “You do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14).
III. Practical Act
Mary did all she could. We readily see it as a practical act (Mark 14:8). For her, there was no time to go to the market, to prepare a meal, or to weave a robe. Leave that to Martha or others. Some people are theoretical and some are practical. She did the thing nearest and dearest with what she had. Love does what it needs to do with whatever is available. “Love is not really blind. It has the most generous of eyes. Professor Henry Drummond used to say if you buy a box, it must be flawless. But if your little son, with his rough tools, makes you a box, very probably it has a hundred faults. Yet you appreciate that clumsy workmanship far more than what you purchased in the market, because it’s the work of the little boy you love.”4 How powerful is the action of love that does the right thing at the right time with the insight of practicality.
IV. Perceptive Action
Mary’s ministry was also a perceptive action (Mark 14:8b). Jesus had often spoken of his death. He mentioned at least seventeen times that he would die and be resurrected. But his followers didn’t get the picture. Sometimes the truth nearest us is the truth that evades us. Their spiritual ears didn’t hear, but Mary’s did.
Mary knew that a person who died as a criminal—according to the law of that day—was denied the customary anointing oils and perfumes. At Jesus’ birth, the wise men brought gifts that included the gift of myrrh. Myrrh was used by the Egyptians for embalming and by the Hebrews ceremonially. In the Old and New Testaments, we see it used as a symbol of blessing and life. Mary’s action highlighted not only her devoted love, but her spiritually perceptive spirit. Jesus would die, but not unsaluted! The conduct of our lives is a strong indicator of the presence of Christ that enables us to say and do those things that reflect his heart.
We must be grateful for those thoughtful people whom God’s grace places in our journey of life. They know when to say the right words, when we need encouragement, how to send a card or E-mail when our burdens are heavy, how to share a gift when the bank account is low. They stop to pray when we do not know the way, or they put an arm around us when a touch rejuvenates our spirit. Have you ever been on the receiving end of such a perceptive and thoughtful act? These acts are in the category of what one might call “those things we are willing to count, anxious to multiply, and reluctant to divide.”5
V. Perpetual Transaction
Mary’s gift has been forever memorialized. It was a gesture that took one brief moment, but it became a perpetual transaction. Jesus promised it would never be forgotten: “I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her” (Mark 14:9 The Message). As we celebrate and remember the life of this godly woman, we are fulfilling what Jesus said of Mary over two thousand years ago.
When we do what we can, it has a long-term effect in the spiritual world that continues to touch lives for many years. At Christmas time in a rural church, the congregation privately collected money to give the young pastor and his growing family a cash gift for Christmas. When the gift had been gratefully received, and most of the people had left the sanctuary, an elderly woman—who lived on a fixed income—pulled the pastor aside and timidly put a five-dollar-bill in his hand. He tried to refuse, but she insisted, telling him that the Lord told her to do it, and he must not rob her of the joy of giving. In later years of ministry, he said that this one small act was the planting of a seed that taught him to become a gracious giver.
It’s been said that Jesus has a lot of strange things in his treasury: widows’ pennies, cups of water, broken alabaster vases, ruined recipe boxes. Has he anything of yours? Do you feel the impulse to do something beautiful for God? Then crown it with action.6
Our beloved did what she could. No better words can be spoken of any person than these. That kind of loving devotion characterized the life of the one we remember today. This kind of woman is a gift to her husband, children, family, church, neighborhood, and above all, her Lord. Perhaps this is best captured in these words: “For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life” (John 3:16 GNB).
We have all played the mental game of “What If.” What if I rubbed a magic lamp and a genie gave me three wishes? What if a good fairy appeared and gave me a magic charm with great powers? We may not have any basis to believe in genies or fairies. But what if God himself appeared to us and said, “Hold out your hands. I want to give you a most wonderful gift. This gift has great power: both to help and, if misused, to harm. The power of the gift will grow as you become familiar with it. As you develop the ability to draw power from the gift, you will find great satisfaction and fulfillment from the things you are able to accomplish through it … things that will affect generations to come and will have an eternal effect on many lives. In preparing this gift for you, I have taken into consideration your capabilities and desires. You will find the powers of this gift will both compliment and supplement your own. You will find the capacity to accomplish tasks you would not have undertaken before, and where you have strengths now you will greatly surpass your old ideals. Before you accept it, let me tell you there are responsibilities that go along with the gift.”
Would you interrupt at this point and say, “Sure, God. Just toss it in the back of the car and I’ll check it out at my earliest convenience.” I think not. You would not take lightly a gift offered by God.
God continues, “You must not mistreat this gift for although it is very durable, it is also very fragile. It can be damaged and great harm can come to you and many other people if this is allowed. You will be called on by many to share the powers of this gift, because others will need it also. But you must use discretion and protect the gift from misuse. I will be with you, will strengthen and guide you. But if you think these conditions will be too difficult, you must not accept the gift. The gift that I have prepared for you is your mate. It is my plan that this be a mutual gift. For you see, I have also prepared you in a similar way as a gift. Although you will not completely understand this, the gift, though it is for a lifetime, might better be considered a loan.”
I have come to understand in the years since I first had these thoughts that the gift was not the person of my mate. For God maintained ownership as she really belonged to him. But the gift was time we would have together to enjoy each other and the work that God would give us.7
This devoted follower of Jesus Christ would urge you to give your best to him. If you are a Christian, renew your pledge to do what you can. If you have never received Jesus Christ as God’s best for you as your personal Savior and Lord, there is no better time than now. Jesus is truly the best that God can do. God’s alabaster perfume was wrapped in a human body. His was a body that was broken for our sins. This became the greatest gift of all. That truth is captured in these familiar words: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16 GNB).
At the end of his life, Michelangelo expressed it this way: “I have loved my friends and family. I have loved God and all His creation. I have loved life and now I love death as its natural termination … knowing that although Christendom may be over—Christ lives!”8
1 John Hewitt, church newsletter, First Baptist Church, Asheville, North Carolina, date unknown.
2 E. C. McKenzie, 14,000 Quips and Quotes (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980), 374.
3 Charley Reese, “Samurai Wisdom: We are all alike in that one day we will die,” Orlando Sentinel (July 25, 1999).
4 George Morrison, Morrison on Mark (Ridgefield: AMG Publishers, 1997), 100.
5 Author unknown.
6 R. Kent Hughes, Mark (Westchester, Ill.:Crossway Books, 1989), 2:148.
7 Eulogy by Richard Downes, given at memorial service for his wife, Beverly, June 3, 2003, Orlando, Florida.
8 Malcolm Muggeridge, Confessions of a Twentieth Century Pilgrim, as quoted in church bulletin, Branch’s Baptist Church, Richmond, Virginia, November 21, 1999.
Henry, Jim: A Minister's Treasury of Funeral & Memorial Messages. Nashville, TN : Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003, S. 30

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