Challenging the Critics
. . . there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment
of spikenard very precious; and she brake the box, and
poured it on his head. And there were some that had indignation
within themselves, and said, Why was this waste of
the ointment made? . . . And Jesus said, Let her alone; why
trouble ye her? . . . Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this
gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this
also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial
of her (MARX 14:3-6, 9).
Most of the time it is best to ignore those who criticize. There
are occasions, however, when questions that do not deserve an
answer yet need to be answered.
"Why this waste?" demanded Judas. Poor fellow, he lived all
his years without learning that there is a difference between wasting
and giving. Mary didn't accidentally spill the perfume; she
poured it with a purpose. She didn't waste it; she gave it!
Jesus was always Master of a situation, as His words on this
occasion reveal. "Let her alone," He said. His words were calm
but His command was unmistakable. He spoke quickly so that
Mary might not be hurt and also that the beauty of the moment
might be preserved, lingering as the fragrance of perfume.
"This shall be spoken of for a memorial of her," Jesus said. It
is appropriate, however, that the gift be remembered as well as
the giver. Her shattered container of what is known as "soft
marble" has been more than a memorial shaft and has outlived
the remnants of the Roman Empire. Those marble monuments
are crumbled with age, yet Mary's invisible monument of love
still remains to influence us almost two millenniums later.
Surely Jesus had good reason to emphasize that never-to-beforgotten
incident. Mary's example remains eternally a challenge
and an encouragement to all His followers. It stimulates us to
say, with the Psalmist, "What shall I render unto the Lord for all
his benefits toward me?" (PSALM 116:12).
Barclay refers to the act as "an oasis of sweetness in the desert
of bitterness." It was the only refreshing touch of rain in the
storm of hate that engulfed the Lord's last days. Without that
spontaneous and surprising gesture, all around Him was bitterness
and gall. Chambers has said, "The characteristic of love is
that it is spontaneous; it bursts up in extraordinary ways; it is
never premeditated." Mary of Bethany came with deep emotion
and emptied the vial of perfume upon Jesus with all the devotion
of her soul!
Her beautiful act can be remembered best by three words:
perfume, privilege, and prophecy. The three people who are
called to mind are Mary, Judas, and the Lord.
Perfume has been the subject of many advertisements. Almost
everyone is influenced into buying it at one time or another by
the "hard sell" of a clerk or a printed ad. A mother pointing out
a beautiful rainbow to her child was startled when the child innocently
asked, "What is it advertising?" Quickly the mother
replied, "God's beautiful promise." It is possible for us to become
so involved in the tinsel packaging of perfume that we forget the
beauty of the fragrance itself.
In Mark's narrative, who came out the happier, do you think?
—the giver or the griper? The griper always hangs himself—if
not with rope, then with his own words which cut him off from
sympathy with other people. The giver gives himself into immortality,
as Mary did. You might think the disciples would have
been pleased with the honor to their Master; but alas! it is often
easier to please the Master than to please His disciples, even
"Why was it not sold? Why was this waste allowed?" demanded
Judas. The question could not go unchallenged; Jesus
answered quickly. All the disciples, perhaps, did not feel as Judas
did, but they were influenced by him, evidently, as they remained
silent. There are times when silence is golden; there are other
times when it is a sin.
The questions Judas asked seem strangely up to date as they
reveal the age-old problem of price versus value. "Why this
waste?" There is always danger when one tries to calculate the
cost of love. Love is not a bookkeeper; love is more often a spendthrift!
The precious perfume, poured out by a loving heart, was
not wasted; it was used for its purpose of beauty. Would it have
been wasted if Mary had used it on the body of her brother
Lazarus, which she would likely have done if Jesus had not
raised him up? There is a purpose for all things, and the great
waste comes in hoarding things, in keeping them from their
proper use in life. The perfume would have been wasted if it had
not been used.
Judas understood the price of perfume, but not its purpose.
"Three hundred pennyworth" was his quick materialistic evaluation.
Judas' mind functioned like an IBM machine in material
matters, but his heart did not respond to spiritual values. He later
learned the price of blood, but never the beauty of love.
"Why was it not sold?" Because it was not for sale—it was for
sharing! It was not exchanged for bread because man cannot
live by bread alone. Gratitude, appreciation, and love are tragically
lacking in this dollar-mad world of ours. Someone remarked
to Robert Browning while he was visiting at Oxford, "I hope you
do not mind all this praise." That much-criticized poet replied,
"Mind it! I've been waiting for it all my life."
Some wait in vain. The wife of Thomas Carlyle wrote in her
diary of her hunger for a word of appreciation from her husband.
After her death, Carlyle read the diary and with a broken heart
repeated over and over, "If I had only known! If I had only
Early one morning I was called by a funeral director and asked
if I would go to the cemetery with a young couple who had lost
their infant child. They were newcomers—unknown to me, as
were the circumstances involved. I went with them and read the
Bible and prayed by the little casket. As they turned slowly to
leave the grave of their only child, the young mother remarked,
"If only there had been some flowers, it would have helped." I
felt the same, and I wished I had thought of it in time. Life
without flowers, life without beauty, life without love always
leaves a sense of emptiness and frustration.
Mary had to break her vase—otherwise her heart might have
broken. There is a deep need in all our lives to share and to be
needed. It is always our high privilege to give what we have to
Jesus, but it is an even greater privilege to place ourselves at
His feet. The perfume cost nearly a year's earnings in that time;
perhaps for Mary it meant a lifetime of savings. But love has its
moments—when they pass they are gone forever. A wife says,
"Oh, you shouldn't!" when receiving an unexpected gift. Yes, the
husband should. She shouldn't demand it, but he should give it,
for this is the language of love.
You may not always have an opportunity to express your love.
Soon after the death of our oldest child, I was waiting in a large
airport for my flight. Nearby a little blonde girl, about ten years
old, was looking at some dolls in the gift shop, and she said to
the elderly man with her, "Granddaddy, loan me the money to
buy this doll and I'll pay you back out of my allowance when I
get. home." How many times we have heard similar appeals! If
we do not respond to the privilege to give, there may come a
time when our hearts will break at the loss of opportunity!
The answer of Jesus revealed that we will always have the
opportunity to give to something, but some of the opportunities
of love will not tarry: "For ye have the poor with you always,
and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have
not always" ( MARK 14:7 ). Moses had said earlier, "For the poor
shall never cease out of the land . . ." ( DEUTERONOMY 15:11).
Our response is a matter of insight, a choice in putting first things
Would Judas really have given the money to the poor? Not
likely. He may have been thinking, "If Jesus doesn't stop this type
of giving, I may have to open up the purse I keep." The people
who give the flowers spontaneously in life are the kind hearts
to whom I would appeal for help in any time of need.
Did Mary understand her deed? Did she even understand her
heart? Probably not. We never really understand or comprehend
love; we accept it by faith.
Perfume is mentioned many times in the Bible: the wise men
brought perfume to the infant Jesus at His birth; it was used in
the Old Testament for the anointing of priests, prophets, and
kings. Jesus Christ is our High Priest; He is our Prophet of
righteousness; He is the King of kings! This was His anointing,
and never was a gift more timely. "She hath anointed my body for
burial aforetime," He declared. Mary put her gift of flowers into
His hands rather than saving them for His grave. She broke her
alabaster box because He didn't need a marble monument. He
was not going to stay in the grave long enough for them to make
Every heart needs a touch of love. Every person needs prayer
and encouragement in the dark hours. There are times when kind
words will not suffice; at such times we need kind deeds! In parts
of the Orient, according to a beautiful custom, a host would go
to the seat of the honored guest and break the guest's goblet at
the close of the meal—so that "no lesser lips" should ever touch
it. Jesus Christ was all the world to Mary. Why should she save
her treasure for a lesser use?
Into the study of Dr. Henry Drummond in Scotland came a
little woman from a humble home. Her husband was dying and
she wanted the preacher to come to him. She added, in beautiful
compliment to the famous clergyman, "He cannot hear ye, or
see ye, but he will sense ye there."
Holy Spirit of God, fall fresh on all of us that we may know
the fragrance of our Lord Jesus which will linger and bless us
even at this hour! Why should we use nur lives for lesser things
than service to Him?
Sermon from R. Earl Allen