Nourished by meals with the Messiah
Joel S. Heckendorf
Smells better than dinner (Mark 14:1-9)
Fresh baked bread. Chocolate chip cookies. Simmering cinnamon sticks. French roast coffee. Go ahead . . . take a whiff. Did you crack a little smile? It’s hard not to.
When Simon the Leper invited Jesus to be his dinner guest, I’m sure Jesus did not miss all the smells. Baked bread with dipping oils on the side. Fresh cut oranges. The catch of the day. And a crowded room of perfumed, curious people.
Then, cutting through the smells, Jesus got a whiff of something that brought a smile to his face. It was a “beautiful thing” (Mark 14:6) as Mary, the one who chose the one thing needed (Luke 10:42), needed to pour out her love before the One who loved her. When she saw Jesus, the One who changed her life, her appreciation and love welled up and overflowed. With no concern of a shard that may have cut her hand, she broke the neck of that expensive alabaster jar and poured the whole amount over his head until it dripped and dribbled down to his feet.
Proud papalike approval
This dinner at Simon’s table tells us much about Mary. But it also tells us much about our Savior. Look at his response. More than just acknowledging her gift, he called it “beautiful.” Wow! The God who crowns the sky with seven-layered rainbows and paints the sky at sunrise and sunset—the God who dresses the fields with sprays of flowers and invented 33 million times more scents than Bath & Body Works—that God, that creative, full-of-beauty God, called her act of faith “beautiful.” Ours too.
Why? One reason: he loves us. And love affects our perspective and our actions. Just like a proud dad thinks his kindergartner’s art is so beautiful that he displays it at work for all to see, God values our fruits of faith. They may not measure up to the world’s standards for beauty, but they are beautiful to him.
Mama bearlike defense
Moreover, his love leads him to defend us in the same way he defended his dear friend Mary. When the crowd questioned her, Jesus roared back like a protective mama bear, “Leave her alone” (Mark 14:6).
Usually when we pray that the Lord would defend us, we are looking to his mighty power for help. But it’s not just his might that comforts us. It’s why he wants to defend us that gives us his reassuring strength. He holds us in his protective embrace for one reason alone—because he loves us.
It didn’t stop there. Having captured the attention of the crowd with his signature “Truly I tell you,” Jesus went on to promise this: “What she has done will also be told, in memory of her” (Mark 14:9). The fact that I’m writing—and you’re reading—about it today is convincing evidence that Jesus keeps his promises.
A proud papalike approval, a mama bearlike defense, and a promise-keeping Savior. What gifts Jesus put on display as a mealtime guest! Gifts that lead us to pray, “And let these gifts to us be blessed. Amen.”
Food for thought
- Evaluate this statement: Love is not love if it neatly calculates the cost.
Just because Jesus commended Mary for her gift, that doesn’t mean we necessarily should use our offerings for things that could be deemed “wasteful.” Biblical stewardship principles still apply. However, two things stand out in Jesus’ evaluation of Mary’s offering: 1) he recognized that it was a gift for him (“She has done a beautiful thing to me.); and 2) he acknowledged the timing of this gift (he was about to be buried). As good managers, we too will want to encourage and give offerings that are 1) to God’s glory; and 2) appropriate for the time.
- A Christian man donates $10,000 for a mural in his church, even though the congregation has an outstanding debt of $1.2 million. Apply this biblical account to the situation.
In the example of the $10,000 mural gift, one would want to rejoice over the man’s motives, if they were indeed out of gratitude for the Lord. Second, one would want to consider the timing. In this particular case, the gift seemed appropriate as it brought him much gospel comfort: he had recently lost his wife. The mural would help him; it reminded him every week when he walked into church, “Take courage, it is I. Don’t be afraid.” It was a way for him to remember the gospel and Jesus’ love. In addition, it was to proclaim the gospel to others as they entered the house of God.
- Read the three accounts of Jesus being anointed (Matthew 26:6-13;Mark 14:1-9; John 12:1-8). Which details do you appreciate the most?
Together, the three accounts paint a beautiful picture. What you appreciate the most will vary. When studying a portion of Jesus’ life, it is often helpful to look at the various gospel accounts that record it. In this case, I appreciate that John shares the identity of the anointer. But I also appreciate some of the smaller details. For example, Mark tells us that she broke the alabaster jar. In other words, she wasn’t just willing to pour out a year’s worth of wages on Jesus; she even dedicated the expensive container. Or how about the fact that Matthew chimes in that the “disciples” (plural) thought this was a waste, not just Judas. What a reminder about how we too can get caught up in considering certain offerings to be wasteful, even though we’re not thieves like Judas.
Contributing editor Joel Heckendorf is pastor at Immanuel, Greenville, Wisconsin.
This is the second article in a 11-part series that looks at Jesus as a mealtime guest and how he blessed his fellow diners—and us—with his living presence. Find the article and answers online after Jan. 5 at wels.net/forwardinchrist.
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Author: Joel S. Heckendorf
Volume 105, Number 01
Issue: January 2018
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