By: Melissa A. Anderson
She hesitated just before entering the room, struggling with her emotions. Questions overwhelmed her. Should she really do this? How would it be received by the guests in the room? More importantly, how would Jesus receive it? Would anyone understand?
No one could know the debate and conflict that raged within her. She had never done anything like this before. In a way, this was an action that was completely out of character for her. Her usual place had been to sit attentively at Jesus’ feet and absorb every word. Martha was the one who always activated things and had everything under control as she busily served. She preferred to stay in the background, unnoticed.
Had not He spoken of His death and His going away? Why was no one alarmed? Had not they listened? Was she the only one with sensitivity and concern? Ever since He had told them of His imminent death and departure, her heart had been crushed with grief and heaviness. She had not been able to erase it from her mind. If it was true, she had reasoned, there was nothing she could do to prevent it, but she wanted to do something! After groping and searching in meditation and prayer, she finally thought of something she could do.
She knew she probably would be criticized. Perhaps, her brother, Lazarus, and her sister, Martha, would be among the first to complain. Had they not used a lot of their life’s savings when Lazarus died? (Her heart welled up in praise as she saw him well and happy, sitting at the table with Jesus!) After all, the spikenard was very costly. She lovingly touched the alabaster box concealed under her robe. How well she knew the sacrifice and labors to procure it.
What of Jesus’ disciples and followers there in the room? What would be their reaction? Would they think it an unnecessary waste for her to do this? Would they be insensitive of her motive? She was sure they loved Him even as she did, but did they realize that Jesus was to die within a few days?
There was such an urge, an overwhelming force, that compelled her to do this in preparation for His burial. She knew it was unconventional, but nevertheless, if she were to feel that she had done what she could, she must proceed.
She quickly walked through the door, made her way to where Jesus was reclining at the table, knelt behind Him, and broke the seal of the alabaster box. Immediately the perfume of spikenard filled the room. All other activity stopped as she lovingly anointed Jesus’ head and feet and wiped His feet with her hair. She sensed that all eyes were upon her, and she humbly waited for what might come.
Then she heard Judas, the treasurer, loudly protest and ask why this precious ointment had not been sold and the money given to the poor, that it was a waste to use it in such an outlandish way. He stated that the ointment could have been sold for three hundred pence, enough to pay a laboring man’s wages for a year! She waited to hear how others would respond, and soon she heard them join Judas in his criticism of her.
Then she heard Jesus stop His disciples. He told them to let her alone, for she had anointed His feet against the day of His burying. He further be the poor to whom they could minister, but that He would not be with them always.
Nothing else mattered now to Mary! He understood! He knew that it was love that compelled her to do this, and that love expended is costly. Everything was all right now. Jesus had accepted her sacrifice and understood.
This incident took place two days before Passover in the town of Bethany. (See John 12:1-8; Mark 14:3; Matthew 24:6-13.) Earlier a similar incident occurred (probably in Capernaum) in the house of Simon the Pharisee. An unnamed woman, who was known as a sinner, also brought an alabaster box of ointment, washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, and anointed His feet with the ointment. Her motive was not to prepare Jesus for His burial but to express her love and gratitude for His forgiveness of her sins. (See Luke 7:36-50.)
Although Simon the Pharisee did not voice his criticism of Jesus, he thought that if Jesus were a prophet He would have known that the woman weeping, washing His feet, and anointing them with the ointment was a sinful woman. Jesus knew his thoughts. To help Simon understand the woman’s motive, Jesus told him of a creditor and two debtors. One owed five hundred pence and another fifty, and each was forgiven his debt. Jesus asked Simon, “Which of them will love him (the creditor) most?” Simon replied, “I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most” (Luke 7:42-43). Jesus then made the application and revealed the woman’s motive: “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much” (Luke 7:47).
At the end of His conversation with Simon the Pharisee, Jesus spoke to the woman: “Thy sins are forgiven…. Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace” (Luke 7:48-50).
What a reward for love! Her love for Jesus moved her to do a deed that she knew could be misunderstood by observers. But her compelling desire drove her to take the risk of being misunderstood.
Perhaps many of us have felt compelled by love to take a risk of being misunderstood. Let me tell you of one such an experience in my life.
A few years ago, on the day of my husband’s funeral, I waited with dread for the time to leave our home with my family and go to the church. I knew that my husband would lie in a casket in front of the pulpit he had filled for thirty-three years. Before I left the solitude of my bedroom, I raised my hands and asked the Lord for special grace to carry me through the hours ahead. I wanted
to bear my grief with a Christian dignity that reflected hope beyond death.
I felt God’s special grace and an inner peace throughout the memorial service. I was able to smile as fellow ministers spoke of Brother Anderson’s unique personality, and I worshiped and sang with the others during the service.
The last ones to pass by his casket prior to the family’s time were the members of the local congregation. When the first church group stood to pass the casket, I felt a compelling love, and I could not sit any longer in the role of the grieving wife. Before I scarcely knew what I was doing, I arose and went to the head of the casket and stood with those who had ministered during the service.
Grief for my husband was suspended, and in its place came an overwhelming love for him and for the people who had lost their pastor.
The risk of being misunderstood seemed unimportant. After the last person passed by, I continued to stand in shock and embarrassment for doing such an unusual thing. Then Brother Nathaniel Urshan gently whispered, “You can sit down not, Sister Anderson.” His words broke my shock and I quickly slipped back into the pew between my two preacher brothers, and once more I was the grieving wife.
Compelling love causes us to take risks, to exceed the bounds of the usual. It causes us to forget ourselves as we reach out to serve. It causes us to speak to strangers about salvation; to volunteer for tasks we feel completely incapable of doing; to write letters and make phone calls to encourage others; and to give of our time, strength, and funds when we wonder how we can. Compelling love forces us out of our routine to serve God.
Love is such a moving force that we obey its irresistible inner urge to please God, who first so loved us that He give His all. Just as His love for us caused Him to lay down His life for us, our love for Him causes us to deny ourselves for Him.
Our compelling love for the Lord will not do anything for self-glory, nor will it thrust us into the arena of showmanship or sensationalism. Rather it is completely prompted by the motive to glorify God and to edify and minister to His church.
The reward for compelling love is great. Jesus will come to our defense at times of criticism. He will show His pleasure toward us when we manifest our love for Him. By her loving act, Mary of Bethany was given a memorial that will last until Jesus returns. Let us also act on our love for Him in our service to Him and for His cause in our world.
(The above material appeared in May 1992 issue of Pentecostal Herald.)
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