Now the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were two days away, and the chief priests and scribes were looking for a covert way to arrest Jesus and kill Him.
first, on the silent deed of Mary; then on the open word of Judas; then we must hear the words of Jesus, who, on this occasion at least, made himself a Judge and a Divider over them.
I. THE DEED OF MARY. (Ver. 3.) No reason for the act is assigned. Is one needed? Was it the offering of gratitude, or duty, or love? Was there goodness enough in that heart to lead it to do a kind action spontaneously, without respect to any previous personal obligation? Was there a sufficiently clear discernment of the true character of the distinguished Guest to compel her to offer her best gifts? We know not. One thing we know - Lazarus was there, "whom Jesus raised from the dead." Then upon that head so hot, and upon those feet so weary, she pours her costly perfume; pours it freely, so "that the house was filled with the odour."
II. Could any one have suspected a spot could be found in this almost heavenly feast? Alas! so is it with all things and all times of earth. Though all the college of the apostles was there; though there was one who had been raised from the dead, and one whose body had been purified and made anew; though all had seen the miracles which he did; though there were renewed and chastened spirits present, types of perfect love and faithful service; and though the Master himself was in the midst, on that sweet last sabbath eve; - yet even in this Eden of blessing was the trail of the serpent to be seen. Hearken (vers. 4-6), poor human nature! Though Heaven itself come down to us, we tarnish it with some earthly foul breath.
III. Jesus, by his words, passes judgment on Mary's deed and on Judas's pronouncement upon it. He appears for her defense. "Why trouble ye her?" (vers. 6, 8, 9). He may have been troubled, but in self-forgetfulness he thinks of her as she did of him. The work was a good one. "She hath anointed my body aforehand for the burying." Did she really know the meaning of her act? Did she really know that he would so soon be taken away? Then, to her quick apprehensive grief, he was dead already. Did she unconsciously predict his burial, or was love quick-witted here? We know not; but who can tell what she learnt at his feet? Probably she knew not on this quiet sabbath evening that on the next he would be in the tomb, or her heart would have been broken as well as her alabaster box. But if her gift of grateful love meant more than she supposed, it was only as all gifts of love do. They go beyond the discernments of intellect and judgment; they reach further; they mean more. So is it with all works done to Jesus. When we comfort the sorrowful, or minister to the sick or destitute, or do any "good work" in him and for him, he makes them symbolize himself. They show forth his praise. They reveal his spirit. As to the poor and our help of them, who, to our disgrace, are always with us. Let us see how Jesus honors even their lot by placing himself in the position of a receiver of doles of charity and human kindness. And let us, undeterred by the misuse which some make of our gifts, still break our alabaster boxes. Let us pour over the world the fragrance of a godly life, the sweetness of our Christian temper, the labor of our Christian zeal, the gifts of our Christian love. - G.
And being in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper.
I. IT WAS A HOME OF TRUE FAMILY LOVE, or Jesus would not have sought its shelter so often as He did. What tender memories cluster round the childhood that has been spent in such a home! What a foretaste of the home beyond the grave, the haven where we would be!
II. IT WAS A HOME WHERE JESUS ALWAYS WAS A WELCOME GUEST, whither He was summoned in every trouble, where He was the Companion, the Guide, and the familiar Friend. Are our homes like that? Is He felt and acknowledged to be the Master of the house? the unseen Guest at every meal? the unseen Hearer of every conversation? Is His blessing asked on every meal, on every undertaking, on every event? But now, as we stand with Jesus at Bethany, look what one of the sisters is doing to Him as He sits at meat, either in her own house, or in one of a similar type where she is hardly less at home. "Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus." Beloved, is there not something like that that we can do for Jesus in this Holy Week? Is there not something that we can bring and lay at His feet while we are watching with him through the hours of His Passion? Something that will be an earnest of our love — some secret sin which it would really cost us something to give up? And cannot we find something, too, in our family life, or in the part we have to play in it? Is there not some new departure we might make for Jesus' sake, to make our homes a little less unworthy to be His dwelling place?
(Henry S. Miles, M. A.)
I. MARY DID MORE THAN SHE WAS AWARE OF DOING. It is an affecting circumstance, brethren, that wherever our Lord was, and however engaged, His death seems to have been always in His mind. It was in His mind here at a social meal, and what we should have called a happy one, with those He loved the very best on earth around Him, and with the love of some of them towards Him in the liveliest exercise. It is a cheering truth, brethren, that we can never measure the use to which a gracious Saviour may turn our poor doings. As His designs in our afflictions often lie deeper than we can penetrate, so do His designs in the services to which He prompts us. We do this, and we do that, and we mourn that it is so little, and that so little good to our fellow men and so little honour to our God will come from it; but we know not what will come from it. That little thing is in the hand of a great, omnipotent God, and His mighty arm can bend and turn it we know not how or whither.
II. We must now ask what MARY'S MOTIVES PROBABLY WERE in this extraordinary act.
1. The strongest of them perhaps was a feeling of grateful love for her blessed Lord. He had just raised her brother from the dead; had just shown a sympathy and affection for herself and Martha, which might well astonish her; had put an honour on her family she must have felt to be surpassingly great. "Thank Him," she perhaps said within herself, "I could not when Lazarus came forth. I cannot now. My tongue will not move, and if it would, words are too poor to thank Him. But what can I do? Kings and great men are sometimes anointed at their splendid banquets. My Lord is to be at Simon's feast. I will go and buy the most precious ointment Jerusalem affords, and at that feast I will anoint Him. It will be nothing to Him, but if He will suffer it, it will be much to me." Do something to show that you are thankful for blessings, though that something be but little.
2. Mary was probably influenced also by another motive — a desire to put honour on Christ. "Let others hate Him, and spurn Him," she must have said, "Oh for some opportunity of showing how I honour Him." It is an easy thing, brethren, to honour Christ when others are honouring Him, but real love delights to honour Him when none others will.
III. LET US NOW COME TO THE JUDGMENT MEN PASSED ON MARY'S CONDUCT. They censured it, and strongly. Men are generally made angry by any act of love for Christ which rises above their own standard — above their own ideas of the love which is due to Him. They can generally, too, find something in the warm-hearted Christian's conduct to give a colour to their displeasure. "Why was this waste of the ointment made?" It was a plausible question; it seemed a reasonable one. And observe, too, men can generally assign some good motive in themselves for the censure they pass on others. And mark, also, Christ's real disciples will sometimes join with others in censuring the zealous Christian. "There were some that had indignation." But yet again, the censures passed on the servant of Christ often have their origin in some one hypocritical, bad man. Who began this cavilling, this murmuring against Mary? We turn to St. John's Gospel, and he tells us it was Judas — Judas Iscariot, the betrayer. Trace to their source the bitter censures with which many a faithful Christian is for a time assailed, you will often find it in the secret, unthought of baseness of some low, hypocritical man.
IV. The history now brings before us THE NOTICE OUR LORD TOOK OF THIS WOMAN'S CONDUCT. He, first, vindicated it. And observe how He vindicates Mary — with a wonderful gentleness towards those who had blamed her. The practical lesson is, brethren, to adore the blessed Jesus for taking us and our conduct under His protection, and while acting through His grace as He would have us, to feel ourselves safe, and more than safe, in His hands. "He that toucheth you," He says, "toucheth the apple of My eye." But this is not all — our Saviour recompenses this grateful woman as well as vindicates her. "Wheresoever," He says, "this gospel shall be preached, throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her." Our Lord had said long before, "Blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven." But here He anticipates this; there is a reward for this woman on the earth, and a wide and large one. And now, turning from Mary and her conduct, let us think of ourselves and our conduct. What have we done for Christ? "We love Him because He first loved us" — there is the secret of Christian obedience, Christian self-denial, Christian devotedness.
(C. Bradley, M. A.)I. THE NATURE OF THE ACT. It was done to Christ. It was inspired by a right sentiment. If we give all that we possess to Christ still it is less than He deserves. Her regret is not that she gave so much, but so little.
II. THE LESSONS. An action is precisely of the value of the motive by which it has been actuated. We must, moreover, take into account the difference of positions and mental tendencies. Good intention, which is no other thing than love, may deceive itself, without doubt, but it does not always deceive itself. In the Divine flame which the Spirit kindles the light is inseparable from the heat. He who seeks to do the will of God will know the mind of God. Even in giving to the poor it is possible to make serious mistakes. True charity does not open the heart without expanding the mind.
(Alexander Finer, D. D.)Mark 14:3-9).
I. WE START OUT WITH A RECOGNITION, ON OUR PART, OF A SETTLED RULE OF ACTIVITY. All of Christ's friends are expected to do something for Him.
1. Work and sacrifice are not inconsistent with even the highest spirituality, leer this is the same Mary whose other story is so familiar to us all. She was the one who used to sit at Jesus' feet (Luke 10:39) in all the serene quiet of communion with her Lord; yet now who would say that Mary at the Master's head might not be as fine a theme for the artist's pencil? Piety is practical, and practical piety is not the less picturesque and attractive because it has in such an instance become demonstrative.
2. Our Lord always needed help while He was on the earth. There were rich women among those whom He had helped, at whose generous hands He received money (Luke 8:2, 3). And His cause needs help now.
3. It is a mere temptation of the devil to assert that one's work for Jesus Christ is vitiated by the full gladness a loving soul feels in it. Some timid and self-distrustful believers are stumbled by the fear that their sacrifices for our blessed Master are meritless because they enjoy making them. There used to be rehearsed an old legend of an aged prophetess passing through a crowd with a censer of fire in one hand and a pitcher of water in the other. Being asked why she carried so singular a burden, she replied, "This fire is to burn heaven with, and this water is to quench hell with: so that men may hereafter serve God without desire for reward or fear of retribution." Such a speech may appear becoming for a mere devotee's utterance; but there is no warrant for anything like it in the Bible. Heaven is offered for our encouragement in zeal (Romans 2:7). Hell is often exhibited that it might be feared (Matthew 10:28).
II. Next to this, the story of this alabaster box suggests A LESSON CONCERNING THE MOTIVE WHICH UNDERLIES ALL TRUE CHRISTIAN ACTIVITY.
1. In the case of this woman, we are told that her action grew out of her grateful affection for her Lord. Every gesture shows her tenderness; she wiped His very feet with her own hair (John 12:3). This was what gave her offering its supreme value.
2. Herein lies the principle which has for all ages the widest application. It is not so much what we do for our Saviour, nor the way in which we do it, as it is the feeling which prompts us in the doing of anything that receives His welcome. It is the affection pervading the zeal which renders the zeal precious.
3. It may as well be expected that the kindness which proceeds from pure love will sometimes meet with misconstruction. Those who look upon zeal far beyond their own in disinterested affection, will frequently be overheard to pass uncharitable misjudgments upon it. We find (John 12:4-6) that it was only Judas Iscariot after all, on this occasion, who took the lead in assigning wrong motives to the woman, and he did not so much care for the poor as he did for his own bag of treasure. No matter how much our humble endeavours to honour our Lord Jesus may be derided, it will be helpful to remember they are fully appreciated by Him.
4. This is the principle which uplifts and enobles even commonplace zeal When true honest love is the motive, do we not all agree that it is slight ministrations more than great conspicuous efforts which touch the heart of one who receives them? The more unnoticed to every eye except ours, the more dear are the glances of tenderness we receive. It is the delicacy, not the bulk, of the kindness which constitutes its charm.
IV. The final lesson of this story is CONCERNING THE REWARD OF CHRISTIAN ZEAL. Higher encomium was never pronounced than that which this woman received from the Master.
1. It was Jesus that gave the approval. Set that over against the fault finding of Judas! If we do our duty, we have a right to appeal away from anybody who carps. When Christ justifies, who is he that condemns? Some of us have read of the ancient classic orator, who, having no favour in the theatre, went into the temple and gestured before the statues of the gods; he said they better understood him. Thus may maligned believers retire from the world that misjudges them, and comfort themselves with Jesus' recognition.
2. Jesus said this woman should be remembered very widely — wherever the gospel should go. Men know what is good and fine when they see it. And they stand ready to commend it. Even Lord Byron had wit enough to see that —
"The drying up a single tear has more
Of honest fame, than shedding seas of gore."Some of the grandest lives in history have had only little show to make. Care burdened women, invalids on couches, ill-clad and ill-fed sons of toil, maid servants, man servants, apprentices and hirelings with few unoccupied hours, timid hearts, uneducated minds, sailors kept on ships, soldiers held in garrisons — these, with only a poor chance, have done such service that the world remembers them with its widest renown (Psalm 112:5, 6).
3. It was just this parable of Jesus which became Mary's memorial. A word sometimes lasts longer than a marble slab. We must learn to be content with the approval of God and our own consciences. Nothing will ever be forgotten that is worth a record in God's book. Those who die in the Lord will find their works follow them, and the worthy fame remains behind: "The memory of the just is blessed; but the name of the wicked shall rot." Only we are to recollect that love alone gives character and value to all zeal. That was a most suggestive remark of old Thomas a Kempis: "He doeth much, who loveth much; and he also doeth much, who doeth well."
(C. S. Robinson, D. D.)I. THE SACRIFICE OF LOVE. Observe —
1. What Mary gave. The alabastron of precious and perfumed ointment. Rare and costly. Love does not measure its offering by a bare utility; nor by a legal claim.
2. What Mary did. Anointed with this precious ointment. Things worthy of our highest uses are honoured when used in the lowliest uses of religion. What is worthy of our head, honoured by being laid at the Master's feet.
II. THE REBUKE OF COVETOUSNESS. Judas's criticism.
1. Waste! because his plan was not adopted. He thought not of the good that was done, but of what might have been done.
2. He had an excuse. The poor! He was one of those who are always "looking at home;" who do so with shut eyes; who see little, and do less.
III. THE ARGUMENT OF WISDOM.
1. I shall not be here long. Jesus is not long — in this life — with any of us. Let us make much of this guest. Do what we can now.
2. You will always have the poor. These Jesus loved and eared for. This legacy was not forgotten (Acts 4:31-37). Nor are the spiritually poor forgotten.Learn —
1. To love Jesus and show it.
2. That no gift consecrated to Jesus is wasted.
3. The best gift is a broken heart, the perfume of whose penitence and faith is pleasant to the Lord.
(J. C. Gray.)I. A MOTIVE. Mary no doubt intended well. Her right intention would hardly have been questioned by the murmuring disciples themselves. Whatever may be said of her work, nothing can be said of her motive but that it was purely and altogether good. Now motive is of first importance in the estimate we form of any act whatever, small or great. Motive of some kind there must be, or the act cannot be moral; it becomes merely mechanical. The motive too must be good, or the act cannot be otherwise than bad. It need not, however, appear so, and frequently does not. Words are not necessarily the garb of truth, nor appearances the signs and pledges of corresponding realities. However good the motive may be it does not follow that the act as such will be equally good. That is, there may be something more and higher in the motive than appears in the act. This may arise from ignorance, from our not knowing how to make the act better; or it may result from the nature of the act itself, as being essentially humble and commonplace. But a deeper cause is found in our inability to do what we would. We seem to do our very best, we put forth and strain our resources to the utmost, and yet, after all, come short, and sometimes sadly short, of our preconceived desires and hopes. There is, however, another and brighter side to this. Our work is not considered absolutely by itself. The motive that inspires it counts for something, it may be for much.
II. From the motive to this act let us pass to THE ACT ITSELF, WITH ESPECIAL REFERENCE TO THE IMPRESSION PRODUCED BY IT ON THOSE WHO WITNESSED IT. Mary intended well, I have said: she also as certainly did well. This appears in part from what has been already said, but the fact deserves and will repay still further exposition. "She hath done what she could," is the testimony borne to her conduct by the Saviour Himself, which alone were commendation sufficient, as it implies that she had acted up to the full measure of her ability. But to this He adds: "She hath wrought a good work on Me," thus greatly enlarging and heightening the commendation, especially as the term rendered "good" means what is noble and beautiful. Her work was thus good because it was the spontaneous overflow of a profoundly grateful affection for the restoration of her brother Lazarus to life. It was thus good because it was in effect an act of complete abandonment and loving devotion of her whole self to Christ as her one and only Saviour. No doubt there was something extraordinary in the form which this declaration took; but then there was something extraordinary in the sensibility of Mary's nature. But if Judas was first and chief he was quickly followed by others; for evil is alike contagious and confederate. Complaining is easy, and also infectious, and is often practised by some as though it were a virtue. Mark, then, our Lord's reply to their common protest, "Let her alone; why trouble ye her?" etc. A restrictive economy, He virtually tells us, a bare and rigid utility is not at any time the distinguishing characteristic of what is purest and noblest in human conduct. Utility has its own sphere. Economy is a duty even where it is not a necessity. But there are whole regions of thought and action into which neither the one nor the other can enter, or, entering, can reign alone. There must be beauty as well as utility, there must be generosity as well as economy, there must be splendour, magnificence, profusion, seeming waste even, or human life will lose much of its charm. The like profusion is seen in the Word of God as in His works. Shall men, then, in the service of faith and piety, be so unlike God as to confine themselves within the narrow range of a definite economy, or bind themselves to the strict and positive demands of a rigorous utility? Is this what they do in regard to any other kind of service, and with reference to interests that are purely secular and material? Shall it be called waste for a vehement and self-forgetting love to pour costly perfumes on the head and feet of an adored Redeemer, and yet not waste to consume them daily in the gratification of a bodily sense? No one inspired only with what is called the "enthusiasm of humanity" will say so. Still less will anyone who can profess in the words of the apostle, as giving the animating and impellent principle of his whole life, "The love of Christ constraineth me." But, in truth, utility has a much larger sphere than is usually assigned to it. That is not the only useful thing which simply helps a man to exist; nor is it, when viewed comparatively with other things, even the most useful. The same principle applies to faith and love, especially to the latter; while of this latter it may further be said, that its utility is greatest when utility is least the motive to its exercise. That is not love which looks directly to personal advantage, and knows how to regulate its fervour by prudential considerations of profit and loss.
III. MARY'S RECOMPENSE.
1. Christ vindicated her conduct against the angry complaints of His disciples.
2. He did more: He accepted and commended her work as "good" — as truly and nobly beautiful. This itself would be recompense enough for her. She could, and would, desire nothing more, and nothing better. What more and better, indeed, could any one desire, for any work whatever, than the applauding "well done" of Jesus?
3. Yet more there was in her case. She received assurance of everlasting reputation and honour. Here was marvellous and unparalleled distinction, no deed of merely human creature was ever promised a renown so great. And though this renown could of itself add but little to her future felicity, yet the promise of it, as indicating what the Saviour thought of her deed, must have been to her a deep and unfailing source of most holy satisfaction and delight. Nothing of this kind is, of course, possible to us; nor need we desire it. We may, however, learn from it, or rather from both forms of Mary's recompense combined, that whatever is done for Christ shall not, even to ourselves, be in vain.
4. With gracious recompense, there was also natural result. "The house," says one evangelist, "was filled with the odour of the ointment." Mary accomplished more than she intended, anointing not only Jesus, but all who were with Him, and even the house itself. The fact is very suggestive, giving us at the same time a lesson both of admonition and of encouragement. Continuity and diffusion mark all we do. The thought is stupendously solemn, and ought to be solemnly laid to heart. It is one to inspire us with gladdening hope, or else to fill us with terrible dismay.
(Prof. J. Stacey, D. D.)
(Bishop Christopher Wordsworth.)
(Bishop H. C. Potter.)
(P. B. Power.)
(P. B. Power.)
(H. W. Beecher.)
(R. Glover.)There is no word for "box" in the original; and there is no reason to suppose that the vessel, in which the perfume was contained, would be of the nature or shape of a box. Doubtless alabaster boxes would be in use among ladies to hold their jewels, cosmetics, perfumes, etc.; but it would, most probably, be in some kind of minute bottles that the volatile scents themselves would be kept. The expression in the original is simply, "having an alabaster of ointment." Pliny expressly says that perfumes are best preserved in alabasters. The vessel, because made of alabaster, was called an alabaster, just as, with ourselves, a particular garment, because made of waterproof stuff, is called a waterproof. And a small glass vessel for drinking out of is called, generically, a glass. Herodotus uses the identical expression employed by the Evangelist. He says that the Icthyophagi were sent by Cambyses to the Ethiopians, "bearing, as gifts, a purple cloak, a golden necklace, an alabaster of perfume, and a cask of palm wine."
(J. Morison, D. D.)
(Dr. Talmage.)I. THIS PROPHECY BY CHRIST HAS BEEN FULFILLED.
1. Unlikely as it must have seemed that the simple act of devotion here named should be known in all the world, it has literally come to pass. It is told in all the languages of men, till there is scarcely a patch of coral in the wide sea large enough for a man to stand upon where this incident is not known. It should increase our confidence in all our Lord's promises. It is a witness that the rest will be found true as their time comes.
2. Wherever this story has been told, it has received the commendation of those who have heard it. The Lord's judgment has been confirmed: not that of those who "had indignation within themselves," and considered the ointment wasted.
II. WHY WAS THIS WOMAN ABLE TO DO SO PRAISEWORTHY AN ACT? How did she know so much better than the others that Christ was to die, and that this was an appropriate act in view of His death?
1. She had paid attention to His words. She was a good hearer. Her ear was single, and her whole mind was full of truth.
2. Her act was the result of her character and feeling, not of her reasoning. She gave to Him, because she was Mary and He was Christ. It was the impulse of love.
(Alex. McKenzie, D. D.)
(Alex. McKenzie, D. D.)
I. (1) In Mary we have set before us an image of ardent love;(2) in Judas an example of great hypocrisy;(3) in the rest of the apostles an instance of the ease with which even good men are often scandalized when God's purpose happens to differ from their own preconceptions.
II. (1) In the acceptance of Mary's offering of the ointment, we have the mercy of God displayed in receiving and hallowing man's gift when bestowed on Him;(2) in the rejection of Judas, who impenitently hardened himself at the sight of Mary's devotion, an instance is given us of the righteous judgment of the Almighty against the sinner.
(W. Denton, M. A.)
(Bishop H. C. Potter.)
(T. M. Lindsay, D. D.)
(M. F. Sadler, M. A.)
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