Mark 14:1
A scene of great interest and beauty is described in these words and in the supplement supplied by St. Matthew and St. John. On the last sabbath eve before his crucifixion, Jesus came to Bethany. In the house of Simon the leper a feast was made in his honor. The disciples were there, and, of necessity, Martha and her sister Mary, and Lazarus. What a representative group! Simon, the type of suffering, healed, and restored human nature. Lazarus, a living testimony to the Lord's power over life and death - a blossom from the tree of life plucked in that early spring-time, promising a final fruitfulness in richness and beauty. Martha, who in her true character served, type of all faithful, diligent, practical, hardworking disciples. Mary, who also served in her way, with her heart full of meditative love; the incarnation of pure, rapt, fervent devotion, and the sanctity of deep thought. And the disciples were there. Those wonderful men, who have led and will continue to lead the world, as the pillar of cloud of old time led the hosts of God through the desert. And the Master was there, sanctifying all life, as he was the Spring of all. Jesus was there, about whom we cannot say too much. They had met in his honor, for he received honor and hospitality from lowly men. They were met in his Name, and he was "in the midst." Around, outside, were the assailants, the Pharisees and the multitude, the powers of the world, surrounding as with a black drapery; while all within was pure and white and heavenly, save the stream of hot breath from one earthly spirit, himself set on fire of hell. Judas was there. Our thoughts must fix themselves, 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.
The home of Mary and Martha and Lazarus at Bethany, about two miles from Jerusalem across the Mount of Olives, had been the scene of some of the calmest and happiest moments of our Lord's life. We know something of the sweetness of a quiet home after work and anxiety and worry — the labourer knows it, the man of business knows it. We can therefore understand how restful to the Lord Jesus, after those angry scenes that had been gathering around Him all day in the temple, were the peaceful evenings of this week in the home at Bethany. There are two things which we should notice about that home as we follow Jesus thither.

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.)

What she is said to have done. This standard for our service is, you perceive, at once stimulating and encouraging. It is stimulating, for we are never to think that we have done enough while there is anything more we can do; and it is encouraging, for it tells us that though we can do but little, that little will be accepted, nay, considered by our gracious Master as enough. We are not to condemn ourselves, or to repine, because we can do no more. But something else must be noticed here.

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.)

It well exhibits, in a single illustration, the appropriateness, the motive, the measure, and the reward of Christian zeal (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.)

The affectionate Mary, in the devout prodigality of her love, gave — not a part — but the whole of the precious contents, and did not spare the vase itself, in which they were held, and which was broken in the service of Christ. She gave the whole to Christ, and to Him alone. Thus also she took care, in her reverence for Christ, that the spikenard and the vessel (things of precious value, and of frequent use in banquets and festive pleasures of this world for man's gratification and luxury) having now been used for this sacred service of anointing the body of Christ, should never be applied to any other less holy purpose. This act of Mary, providing that what had been thus consecrated to the anointing of Christ's body, should never be afterwards employed in secular uses, is exemplary to us; and the same spirit of reverence appears to have guided the Church in setting apart from all profane and common uses, by consecration, places and things for the service of Christ's mystical body, and for the entertainment of His presence; and this same reverential spirit seems also to animate her in consuming at the Lord's Table what remains of the consecrated elements in the Communion of His Body and Blood.

(Bishop Christopher Wordsworth.)

There is just one principle that runs through all the teaching of the two Testaments concerning what men do for their Maker, and that is that God does not want, and cannot otherwise than lightly esteem that which costs us nothing, and that the value of any service or sacrifice which we render for His sake, is, that whatever may be its intrinsic meanness or meagreness, it is, as from us, our very best, not given lightly or cheaply or unthinkingly, but with care and cost and crucifixion of our self-indulgence; and then again, that it is such gifts, whether they are the adornment of the temple, or the box of alabaster — that these are gifts which God equally and always delights in.

(Bishop H. C. Potter.)

It is on crushed grain that man is fed; it is by bruised plants that he is restored to health. It was by broken pitchers that Gideon triumphed; it was from a wasted barrel and empty cruse that the prophet was sustained; it was on boards and broken pieces of the ship that Paul and his companions were saved. It was amid the fragments of broken humanity that the promise of the higher life was given; though not a bone of Him was broken, yet it is by the broken life of Christ that His people shall live eternally; it was by the scattering of the Jews that the Gentiles were brought in; it was by the bruised and torn bodies of the saints that the truth was so made to triumph that it became a saying, that "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church." It is by this broken box, that throughout the wide world it is proclaimed how blessed and glorious a thing it is to do a whole thing for Christ. When the true story of all things shall be known, then will it appear how precious in God's sight, how powerful in His hands, were many broken things. Broken earthly hopes will be found to have been necessary to the bringing in of the better hope which endures forever. Broken bodily constitutions will be found to have been needful in some cases to the attainment of that land where the body shall be weary and sore no more; broken earthly fortunes, to the winning of the wealth beyond the reach of rust and moth and thief; broken earthly honour, to the being crowned with the diadem which fadeth not away. Yes! even for what we have to accomplish here, it often needs that we should be broken up into personal helplessness ere we can accomplish anything; that the excellency of the power may be not of man but of God. It is along a channel marred, and, as we should say, of no worth, that the precious ointment flows. Therefore, when any of God's people are broken and marred, let them bethink themselves of this shattered box, and how from it there flowed forth that ointment which anointed Jesus for His burial, and how it gave materials for that story which every gospel should tell.

(P. B. Power.)

If relics were needed for the instruction of the Church of God, we can well understand how among the choicest of them would be found the remnants of this alabaster box. This broken vessel would not only be a monument of love, but a preacher with varied eloquence; at once pathetic and practical, tender and even stern; appealing to sentiment, and yet thundering against mere sentimentality; its jagged edges preaching "fact" in this world which men are always telling us is a world of fact; and saying, "Religion is fact — fact from God to man, and back from man to God again." It may be that, as we studied these poor fragments of the past, our minds might pass from the stem teachings of those jagged edges to the sweet scent which diffused itself therefrom; and so, impalpable and invisible as that scent, sweet-savoured thoughts might steal into the secret recesses of our being, and we might be won to more decided action for our Lord. We can understand the broken vessel being carried into the exchange, the counting house, and the shop, and one man shrinking from it as he heard its story, and another pouring out his gold as its depth and power struck deep into his soul. We can picture it to ourselves on the table of the philosopher, as with his midnight lamp beside it, he sits contemplating it with his hands spread over his temples, and rises from his cold, unsanctified study, unable to understand why the woman did this deed, and why anyone should now be called to do the like; and we can imagine it now arresting with its broken form, now beguiling with even the remembrance of its perfume, some strong intellect, which longs to know the reality of things, and bows before the majesty and substance of true love as offered and accepted here. We can understand how it would make a missionary of this one, whose deeds would be known to all, and of another for Christ's sake a lone midnight watcher of the sick, whose deeds would be known to none — from the light of love shining from this broken vessel, as the lamps shone from the broken pitchers of Gideon, we can see thousands fleeing, as the bats and owls before the morning sun; and others, opening and expanding as the flowers into bloom and scent. Were relics needed for the conversion of man from his selfishness, his half-heartedness, his ignorance of the power of love, first above all things we would carry through the world the cross of Calvary and its thorny crown, and next to them this alabaster box.

(P. B. Power.)

Anointing was employed in the East for several purposes: first, for pleasure, it being a great luxury in that climate; and the ointments were prepared from oils with great difficulty. They represented the very best fragrance that could be compounded. They were used by a person upon himself; and it was a significant act of esteem when ointment was presented by friend to friend. Ointments were also used in the coronation and ordination of kings and priests; and so they came to signify sacredness through reverence. Ointments were further used in the burial of the dead, and so came to signify the sorrow of love. But in every case, whether for gifts, or for pleasure, or for sacred uses of consecration or burial, it was not the intrinsic value of the ointment, but the thought which went with it, that gave it significance. It represented deep heart feeling, loyalty; deep religious consecration; sorrow and hope. These various feelings, which have but very little expression awarded to them, choose symbols; and these symbols almost lose their original meaning, and take this second attributive meaning.

(H. W. Beecher.)

In climates where the skin gets feverish with dust, the use of oil in anointing the person is still a common practice. It is so in India; it was so in ancient Greece and Rome. It keeps the skin cool and soothes it, and is held to be healthful. In warmer climes the senses are more delicate, and the smells often more strong and disagreeable, and sweet odours are therefore greatly in demand. In Egypt today, the guests would be perfumed by being fumigated with a fragrant incense; and as spices are still used to give to the breath, the skin, the garments, an agreeable odour, so was it then. In any house the Saviour would have had His head anointed with oil. It was like the washing of the feet, a refreshment. In India these anointings with fragrant oils and perfumes are largely practised after bathing, and especially at feasts and marriages, so that the act of Mary was not something embarrassing and peculiar, but only the very highest form of a service which was expected and welcome. But, instead of the anointing with oil, which would have cost less probably than the widow's mite, she has provided a rich anointing oil. Judas estimated its value at three hundred pence; Pliny says it sold generally for three hundred pence a pound of twelve ounces. It was something of the same kind as attar of roses; made chiefly by gathering the essential oil from the leaves of an Indian plant, the spikenard, described by Dioscorides, 1,800 years ago, as growing in the Himalayas, and still found there, and used today in the preparation of costly perfumes. Except in drops, it was, of course, only used by kings and by the richest classes; was costly enough to be made a royal present. Three hundred pence would be worth as much in those clays as £60 would be in England today. Mary must have been a woman of property to be able to bring such a holy anointing oil; unless, as is equally probable, this amount was the total of her lowly savings, and she with her royal gift, like the widow with her lowly offering, gives all she had. If there be none other to anoint Him, she will not let His sacred head lack what honour she can bring. And if some reject Him, she will make it clear that to do Him the least and most transient honour is worth, in her view, the sacrifice of all she has. And so, with wondrous lavishness of generous love, she buys and brings to the feast the costly unguent. It is enclosed in an alabaster vase or phial, such as some which may be seen in the British Museum today, thousands of years old, and not unlike the alabaster vases that are still made in vast numbers and sold in toy shops and fairs for a few pence; the softness of the stone permitting it to be then, as now, easily turned in a lathe.

(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.)

Just as soon as these people saw the ointment spilling on the head of Christ, they said: "Why this waste? Why, that ointment might have been sold and given to the poor!" Ye hypocrites! What did they care about the poor? I do not believe that one of them that made the complaint ever gave a farthing to the poor. I think Judas was most indignant, and he sold his Master for thirty pieces of silver. There is nothing that makes a stingy man so cross as to see generosity in others. If this woman of the text had brought in an old worn-out box, with some stale perfume, and given that to Christ, they could have endured it; but to have her bring in a vessel on which had been expended the adroitness of skilled artizans, and containing perfume that had usually been reserved for palatial and queenly use, they could not stand it. And so it is often the case in communities and in churches that those are the most unpopular men who give the most. Judas cannot bear to see the alabaster box broken at the feet of Christ. There is a man who gives a thousand dollars to the missionary cause. Men cry out: "What a waste! What's the use of sending out New Testaments and missionaries, and spending your money in that way? Why don't you send ploughs, and corn threshers, and locomotives, and telegraphs?" But is it a waste? Ask the nations that have been saved; have not religious blessings always preceded financial blessings? Show me a community where the gospel of Christ triumphs, and I will show you a community prospered in a worldly sense. Is it a waste to comfort the distressed, to instruct the ignorant, to baulk immorality, to capture for God the innumerable hosts of men who with quick feet were tramping the way to hell! If a man buys railroad stock, it may decline. If a man invests in a bank, the cashier may abscond. If a man goes into partnership, his associate may sink the store. Alas, for the man who has nothing better than "greenbacks" and government securities! God ever and anon blows up the money safe, and with a hurricane of marine disaster dismasts the merchantmen, and from the blackened heavens He hurls into the Exchange the hissing thunderbolts of His wrath. People cry up this investment and cry down the other; but I tell you there is no safe investment save that which is made in the bank of which God holds the keys. The interest in that is always being paid, and there are eternal dividends. God will change that gold into crowns that shall never lose their lustre, and into sceptres that shall forever wave over a land where the poorest inhabitant is richer than all the wealth of earth tossed up into one glittering coin! So, if I stand this morning before men who are now of small means, but who once were greatly prospered, and who in the days of their prosperity were benevolent, let me ask you to sit down and count up your investments. All the loaves of bread you ever gave to the hungry, they are yours yet; all the shoes you ever gave to the barefooted, they are yours yet; all the dollars you ever gave to churches and schools and colleges, they are yours yet. Bank clerks sometimes make mistakes about deposits; but God keeps an unfailing record of all Christian deposits; and, though on the great judgment, there may be a "run" upon that bank, ten thousand times ten thousand men will get back all they ever gave to Christ; get all back, heaped up, pressed down, shaken together, and running over. A young Christian woman starts to instruct the freedmen of the South, with a spelling book in one hand and a Bible in the other. She goes aboard a steamer for Savannah. Through days, and months, and years she toils among the freedmen of the South; and one day there comes up a poisonous breath from the swamp, and a fever smites her brow, and far away from home, watched tearfully by those whom she has come to save, she drops into an early grave. "Oh, what a waste! — waste of beauty, waste of talent, waste of affection, waste of everything," cries the world. "Why, she might have been the joy of her father's house; she might have been the pride of the drawing room." But, in the day when rewards are given for earnest Christian work, her inheritance will make insignificant all the treasure of Croesus. Not wasted, her gentle words; not wasted, her home sickness; not wasted, her heart aches; not wasted, her tears of loneliness; not wasted, the pangs of her last hour; not wasted, the sweat on her dying pillow. The freedman thought it was the breath of the magnolia in the thicket; the planter thought it was the sweetness of the acacia coming up from the hedge. No! no! it was the fragrance of an alabaster box poured on the head of Christ. One day our world will burn up. So great have been its abominations and disorders that one would think that when the flames touched it a horrible stench would roll into the skies; the coal mines consuming, the impurities of great cities burning, you might think that a lost spirit from the pit would stagger back at the sickening odour. But no. I suppose on that day a cloud of incense will roll into the skies, all the wilderness of tropical flowers on fire, the mountains of frankincense, the white sheet of the water lilies, the million tufts of heliotrope, the trellises of honeysuckle, the walls of "morning glory." The earth shall be a burning censer, held up before the throne of God with all the odours of the hemispheres. But on that day a sweeter gale shall waft into the skies. It will come up from ages past, from altars of devotion, and hovels of poverty, and beds of pain, and stakes of martyrdom, and from all the places where good men and women have suffered for God and died for the truth. It will be the fragrance of ten thousand boxes of alabaster, which, through the long reach of the ages, were poured on the head of Christ.

(Dr. Talmage.)

A man said to Mr. Dawson, "I like your sermons very much, but the after meetings I despise. When the prayer meeting begins I always go up into the gallery and look down, and I am disgusted." "Well," replied Mr. Dawson, "the reason is, you go on the top of your neighbour's house, and look down his chimney to examine his fire, and of course you get only smoke in your eyes!"

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.)

The time will come when to do a thing for Christ and to have it accepted by Him will be work and accomplishment enough. If He is pleased, we shall not care to look beyond for recompense. If the spikenard is pleasant to Him, we shall not ask that the house be filled with its fragrance. But the fragrance will fill the house. The poor are best cared for where Christ is the best served. Virtue is strongest where piety is purest. Let Him be satisfied and the world is blessed. Let us break at His feet the alabaster which holds our life, that the spikenard may anoint Him. Go out and stand before men and open the box of stone. Then men will be drawn to you and to your devotion. Soon kings will swing the golden censer, and nations will east incense on the glowing coals, and the perfume will make the air sweet: while many voices from earth and from heaven blend in the song of adoration unto Him that loved us.

(Alex. McKenzie, D. D.)

In this narrative of Mary's good work and the indignation of the apostles, we have an example of all those views and all those judgments which have their foundation in the favourite principle of utilitarianism, and which is so often falsely applied to the wounding of pious hearts, and to the hindrance of that justifiable worship in the Church of Christ, which seeks to express worthily the sentiment of reverence and of love, and which is in itself productive of the highest blessing.

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.)

It is commonly argued that whatever may have been the appropriateness of that earlier devotion which built and beautified the temple, it is superannuated, inappropriate, and even (as some tell us) unwarranted now. Those costly and almost barbaric splendours, it is said, were appropriate to a race in its infancy, and to a religion in the germ. But the temple and the ritual of Judaism have flowered into the sanctuary and the service of the Church of Christ. Not to Mount Gerizim nor Jerusalem do men need to journey to worship the Father, says the Founder of that Church Himself. "God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth." If one would show his devotion to Him, says this same Teacher, "sell all that thou hast and give to the poor." It is not to adorn temples and garnish holy places that Christianity is called nowadays, but to rear hospitals, and shelter orphans, and feed the hungry. It is a diviner thing to send bread to some starving household, or to minister in some plague smitten Memphis or New Orleans, to some fevered sufferer, than to build all the altars and adorn all the sanctuaries that ever were reared. No! it is not — not one whit diviner — noble and Christ-like as such service surely is. Let us come to a distinct understanding here as to an issue concerning which, in the popular mind, there is much confusion and much more misapprehension. If it be asked, Is there not an order and sequence in which things equally excellent may wisely and rightly be done, the answer is plain enough. If anybody is starving or houseless or orphaned, the first thing to do is to feed and shelter and succour them. And so long as such work is undone, we may wisely postpone other work, equally meritorious and honourable. But it should be clearly understood that if in some ages a disproportionate amount of time and money and attention have been given to the aesthetics of religion, in others the same disproportion has characterized that which has been given to what may justly be called the sentimentalism of religion. An enormous amount of indiscriminate almsgiving both in our own and other generations has bred only shiftlessness, indolence, unthrift, and even downright vies. God forbid that we should hastily close our hand or our heart against any needier brother! But God most of all forbid that we thrust him down into a condition of chronic pauperism by the wanton and selfish facility with which we buy our privilege of being comfortably let alone by him with an alms or a dole. Better a thousand times that our gifts should enrich a cathedral already thrice adorned, and clothe its walls already hung with groaning profusion of enrichment, for then, at least, someone coming after us may be prompted to see and own that, whatever fault of taste or congruity may offend him, there has not been building and beautifying without cost and sacrifice Those wonderful men of an earlier generation toiled singly and supremely to give to God their best, and to spend their art and toil where, often if not ordinarily, it could be seen and owned and adequately appreciated by no other eye than His. This, I maintain, is alone the one sufficient motive for cost, and beauty, and even lavish outlay, in the building and adornment of the House of God. We may well rejoice and be thankful when any Christian disciple strives anywhere to do anything that tells out to God and men, whether in wood, or stone, or gold, or precious stones, that such an one would fain consecrate to Him the best and costliest that human hands can bring. When any poor penuriousness cries out upon such an outlay, "To what purpose is this waste?" the pitiful objection is silenced by that answer of the Master's to her who broke ever His feet the alabaster box of ointment very precious, "Verily, I say unto you," etc. And why was it to be told? for the spreading of her fame? No, but for the inculcation of her example.

(Bishop H. C. Potter.)

"The Messiah, although going to death, let me lavish my all on Him," was Mary's thought; "Going to death, and therefore not the Messiah, let me make what I can out of Him," was the thought of Judas.

(T. M. Lindsay, D. D.)

There is a great principle involved in this woman's offering, or rather in our Lord's acceptance of it, which is this, that we may give that which is costly to adorn and beautify the sanctuary of God and His worship. God Himself enjoined on the Jews that they should make a tabernacle of worship of such materials as gold, and purple, and fine linen, and precious stones; and the man after God's own heart collected a vast treasure of gold and costly materials to build and beautify a temple which was to be exceeding magnificent. But since then a new dispensation has been given, which had its foundations in the deepest humiliation — in the manger of Bethlehem — in the journeyings of a poor, homeless man, with the simple peasants His companions — ending in the cross and in the sepulchre. Is there place in such a kingdom for generous men and women to lavish precious things on His sanctuaries and the accompaniments of His worship? Now this incident at the end of the Lord's life, taken together with that at its beginning, when God-directed men offered to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, teaches us that there is. Just as this woman was led by a Divine instinct to lavish upon His Person what was costly and fragrant, so the Church has, by the same Divine instinct, been led to pour at His feet the richest treasures of the nations she has subdued to His faith. The Church has done what she could. At least her faithful sons and daughters have. At first, in her days of persecution, she could worship only in catacombs, and in her days of poverty she could only offer what was rude; but when she subdued her persecutors and emerged from her poverty, then also she did what she could. The grandest efforts of architectural skill have been raised to the honour of Christ, the greater part built in the form of the cross on which He hung to redeem us. The noblest paintings are of His acts and sufferings; and the most elevating strains of music are accompaniments of His worship. It is too true that many have taken part in these offices who have not, like Mary, sat at His feet, and chosen the good part; but what we are now concerned with is, whether this incident warrants those who have first given themselves to Him to offer in and for His worship what has cost labour and treasure and skill.

(M. F. Sadler, M. A.)

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