Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Devotional Thought – Mixed Motives

Jim Mercer (Major)

Scripture Reading – Mark 14:1-11

The journey toward the cross continues……

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem for the Passover feast which will take place in a couple of days. He is exhausted from his ministry, and constant opposition is mounting by the minute. A few of his closest friends decide to invite him for dinner to relax for the evening. One of them is Simon the leper, who opens his house for this special occasion. Martha, the one who loves the kitchen, is on to cook the meal, and her sister Mary comes with her plans. All of the customary arrangements are in place. Jesus is greeted with a kiss from the host, he gets to sit in a special recliner, and, as an honored guest, he receives a special anointing. But, no one is expecting what takes place next. Mary launches out in an act of worship that causes even her own sister to become disturbed, while the others, (including Judas and the 11 disciples) become indignant.

While everyone is enjoying a social drink, Mary reaches into her handbag and takes out this 12 oz bottle full of very expensive perfume. The Scripture tells us that it would be equivalent to nearly a full year’s wages. Mary was not known to be wealthy by any means. She was likely a peasant woman from Galilee, and this perfume would either have been her life’s savings, or perhaps it was a very special gift handed to her by her mother or significant other.

Alabaster jars were often made from a precious stone found in Israel. This stone resembles the texture of marble and was extremely expensive to own. The thick stone prevented the aroma from escaping and kept the perfume from spoiling. The shape of the jar usually had a long neck and a sealed top. To open the jar, the top had to be broken, (use your imagination as I break the jar), which allowed it to be used only once. Mary pours the perfume over Jesus’ head. I’d feel embarrassed if someone did that to me, wouldn’t you?

It would have trickled down his face and neck… the room would have burst alive with the scent (so much for a No Scent Environment 😊). I imagine everyone would have jumped up and there would have been quite a bit of fuss. But, the use of this perfume wasn’t a random act. It says something about one’s individual heart.

This story is about a woman who gave away something very precious, and she gave it all to Jesus the Saviour. This text has a lot to teach us.

MARY GAVE JESUS THE BEST SHE HAD. It was an expensive and extravagant gesture. Some of those present complained that the money had been ill-used. Notice the mixed motives here. Mary’s motive was pure. Her act of worship was sincere, devout, and authentic. Contrast this with Judas who complained about, criticized, and judged Mary and classified it as a total waste of God’s money. He even preys on the poor as a reason to justify his response. But, Jesus knows the human heart.

Jesus told her critics to leave her alone, for she had done a beautiful thing.  The day before, he rebuked those who exploited the poor in exchange for personal gain and used His house of prayer to do it. Today, he rebukes Judas and even the other 11 for pretending to care for the poor when they should be doing as Mary was doing, worshipping the Savior. ‘For the poor will always be with you,’ Jesus declared. And then, Jesus says something that should challenge each one of us: “She did what she could.” You see, Mary didn’t do what she did to make an impression, but Jesus said that what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.

People (and God) won’t just remember the few amazing things we did for others. But, it will be the thousands of small acts of love and devotion that we show day by day that will make the greatest impact for the Kingdom. This is happening now all around us during this COVID-19 crisis. Small acts of kindness are taking place through on-line communication, and other means, as people are connecting to each other in a new way. Together, people from all over the world are creating a beautiful fragrance for God, as they reach out to those most affected by this pandemic.

As we reflect on this story and continue our journey through Holy Week, perhaps we can pause and ask ourselves as followers of Christ: What am I doing in these days as an act of worship that is creating a beautiful aroma for our Lord? Are my motives pure? What do these acts of worship cost me? A phone call? An email or text? A listening ear? A financial gift? A card in the mail? Or, a prayer?

Mary risked her dignity, her reputation, her status, and,yes, her life’s savings; everything she had… as a devotion to her Lord, an act of worship that continues to impact others for Jesus over 2000 years later.

I pray that amidst these days of uncertainty and heightened anxiety, we will be more intentional in our acts of worship to God by looking for creative ways to love and serve others. I believe this happens on a deeper level as we stay close to the heart of Jesus.

Make the words of this song be your prayer today.

Song #570 And, Is It So? A Gift from Me?

1 And is it so? A gift from me
Dost thou, dear Lord, request?
Then speak thy will, whate’er it be:
Obeying, I am blest.

I have not much to give thee, Lord,
For that great love which made thee mine:
I have not much to give thee, Lord,
But all I have is thine.

2 And dost thou ask a gift from me:
The talents I possess?
Such as I have I give to thee
That others I may bless.

3 And dost thou ask a gift from me:
The gift of passing time?
My hours I’ll give, not grudgingly,
I feel by right they’re thine.

4 And dost thou ask a gift from me:
A loving, faithful heart?
‘Tis thine, for thou on Calvary
For me with all didst part.

Richard Slater (1854-1939)