Sunday, July 11, 2010

"Leave Her Alone!"

For some reason, I identify profoundly with Mary of Bethany.  Not because I could stand up to the same measure of devotion she showered on Jesus, but because it is so easy for me to doubt myself.  I feel as though I am always saying or doing the wrong thing when reaching out.  This may be because of the reaction or lack of reaction of others or simply a dose of low self-esteem.  But how embarrassing for Mary as she reverently anointed Jesus to very quickly find herself in the crossfire of harsh, confusing criticism from the disciples.  I'm sure for several moments she was convinced she had blown it.  The way Jesus protectively took her side and defended her has long been a source of great encouragement to me.  Sometimes, in my attempts to reach out to others, I know I actually do mess up. The awesome thing is Jesus is constantly there to rescue us, validate us and redeem our well-intended, though sometimes misunderstood, actions no matter what.

Jesus said Mary of Bethany's story will be told throughout the world.  So listen to it now as Mary recalls the events of that day:

"I stood silently in the doorway of the common room of our home where, in honor of Jesus, a specially-prepared meal was being served to the disciples and my brother, Lazarus.  The conversation at the table was animated.  Everyone was still celebrating the astounding resurrection of my brother from the dead!  No one seemed to notice the fatigue in Jesus' eyes and that his heart seemed heavy.

"I was waiting for the right moment to anoint Jesus with costly spikenard.  I had carefully planned this for days because on several occasions, Jesus had confided in us that he was going to die a gruesome death by crucifixion.  No one really believed him, but I did, and I was deeply affected and disturbed.

"I stood in the doorway for a long time.  Finally, the time seemed right.  It wasn't easy to enter a room full of men.  My heart was pounding as I timidly approached Jesus carefully holding the precious alabaster jar.  First one guest, then another looked up at me.  I broke the neck of the jar on the stone floor.  The sound reverberated through the whole house. I started trembling because now I was the absolute center of attention.  But as the sweet fragrance of perfume filled the air, I began to calm down and reminded myself of why I was there.  I poured the spikenard on Jesus' head.  Everyone watched Jesus' face to see his reaction.  He just closed his eyes and the travel-weary and drawn expression on his face began to melt away.  I could tell Jesus realized that I understood that he was going to die soon.  And I knew the thought of dying was excruciating for him.

"Caught up in the beauty of it all, I then fell to my knees and emptied the last of the luxurious ointment, every drop in the beautiful jar, on his feet.  I untied my hair and used it to gently wipe each foot.  It was as though Jesus and I were the only two people in the room.  It was going exactly as I had planned.

"But I was rudely jerked back to reality by the voice of Judas.  He loudly and indignantly complained about the waste of expensive perfume, insisting that I should have used the money instead to help the poor.  Then some of the other men chimed in and harshly rebuked and criticized me.  My heart sank.  There I was in the presence of men with my hair untied--a definite indiscretion in our culture.  I had interrupted their feast.  I suddenly felt so foolish having spent all that money on the spikenard.  I began to cry.  Too humiliated to raise my head, I remained bowed before Jesus.  Huge teardrops fell on Jesus' feet and I awkwardly tried to wipe them off with my hair.

"Overwhelmed with shame and embarrassment, I started to get up and run out of the room when I heard Jesus say, 'Leave her alone!  Why are you bothering her?  She has done such a beautiful thing to me.'  And in front of all those important men he said the poor would always be among us, but he would not always be there.  He said the perfume was used appropriately--to prepare him for his burial.  And then he said: 'You can be sure wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she had done will be told in memory of her.'

"I was speechless.  Jesus not only understood what I was trying to do, he also praised my act of devotion.  I glanced over at Judas and his face was flush with resentment.  He stood up and left the house.  Later, I learned he had immediately gone to the religious leaders and arranged to betray Jesus.  A few days later, heartbroken, I wept bitter tears as Jesus was unjustly sentenced to death, tortured and crucified.  And I was so thankful I had arranged to honor him through my anointing before he was made to suffer so.  But my sorrow was soon turned into the greatest possible joy when he was raised back to life.  I was the first to see him and talk to him!

"Now, whenever I look back on that special banquet and remember Jesus' words and his gentle kindness toward me, I have a feeling of  immense satisfaction that I poured out my adoration on our Lord, the very Son of God. It did provide him solace and helped to ease his fears as he faced the horror and desolation of the cross.  And that is all I had wanted to do.  I am so glad I followed my heart."

Matthew 26:6-10; Mark 14:3-10; John 12:1-7

(C) Joyce Catherwood 2010

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