The Best We Have to Give

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It was, by any standards, an enormously generous expression of gratitude.

Just before the Passover, Jesus arrived in Bethany to visit his friends, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. His last visit had been marked by a funeral and a celebration of resurrection life. The Lord has brought Lazarus back from the death and all three were grateful. We don’t know how Lazarus expressed his personal gratitude to the Lord and we have only a glimpse of how Martha did it. But Mary, well, Mary found a special way to say thank you for her brother’s life.

John 12:2 tells us that a special dinner was held in Jesus’ honour when he arrived in Bethany. That was Martha’s expression for thankfulness. Serving was her forte and this time, I suspect, she did it with a spring in her step and joy in her heart.

But Mary, who had been commended for sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to what He had to say, what was she to do to say thank you?

It was customary to make guests comfortable. Since people reclined to visit and to eat, it was the normal procedure to wash a guest’s feet so that as they reclined, those dusty, dirty feet weren’t staring another guest in the face. No doubt Jesus was treated to that expression of welcome when he arrived in Martha’s home.

But Mary went one step further. As Jesus reclined at the table, Mary came into the room. “Then Mary took about a pint a pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume” (John 12:3).

Nard comes from the delicate white flower. I’m not sure of what the process is to turn it into a perfume, but it must take a lot of flowers to make a pint of perfume, When I lived in Venezuela, I would occasionally buy a bouquet of nard.The flowers were expensive, but their smell was absolutely wonderful and really did fill the house with an overwhelming scent.

Mary’s gift to Jesus cost her a great deal. She was criticized for the sacrifice. Jesus commended her for it (12:7). Did she understand the significance of what she had done? Nard was one of the things used to cover the smell of death when a person died. Did Mary sense that Jesus’ own death was close? We don’t know. But Jesus knew.

But it is the sacrifice that grabs our attention. Mary took the best of what she had and gave it to Jesus. So did Martha. But the unusualness of Mary’s gift stands out.

The bottom line of the lesson is that Jesus deserves the best we have. Whether our best is our usual done with excellence as it was with Martha, or the unusual done with tears as it was with Mary, the Lord deserves everything we can give.

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