Friday, May 08, 2015

Insight: Mary’s Act of Love

Mary's Act of Love

When you are a student, it could be said you spend your life taking tests. Once, while, in college, I heard of a seminar on how to better take tests and instantly thought to myself, "Is this not a little late?"  In the end, I decided it would not hurt to go and, it was worth it. One thing that was clarified for me was the difference between comparing and contrasting an idea. Many essay tests require the test taker to either contrast or compare a particular concept. If you do not know the difference, your answers will be marked wrong. When a test asks to compare, it means to comment on the similarities between ideas and concepts. And when it states to contrast, you are to discuss dissimilar ideas or concepts. 

The Bible uses both concepts. It is noted in the New Testament that, comparatively speaking, all mankind are sinners in need of grace. But, there is also a contrast, or difference, between those who accept that grace and those who do not. This is the theme of many of the parables and is evident in the parable of the forgiven debtor of Luke 7:41-43-

"There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged." 

The parable reveals that our response to forgiveness makes public whether we have been forgiven much or rather, whether we perceive we have been forgiven much or whether we perceive we have been forgiven little. The implication is that those who believe they have not sinned much, believe they have not been forgiven much. While those who believe that they have sinned much will tend to believe they have been forgiven much. Quantitatively speaking, the love and appreciation demonstrated, will be in proportion to that perception.

This parable within the Mary Magdalene story was given to Simon – a Pharisee and former Leper. Christ had healed Simon. And because of this, Simon "threw" a party to thank Jesus. Jesus accepted and attended with His disciples, while Mary showed up at the event, uninvited. Bringing with her a very costly alabaster box filled with spikenard ointment, she broke it and poured the ointment onto Jesus' head. With this same ointment, mingled with her tears, she also bathed Jesus' feet, drying them with her hair.  This incident was considered scandalous by most of the house guests, which included Simon the host. With disdain and indignation, Simon thought to himself, "This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner" (Luke 7:39).  Let's look at verse 40 to read Jesus' response, "… Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And [Simon] saith, Master, say on" (Luke7: 40).  The "somewhat" was the parable.  Jesus further explained what He meant by it in verses 44 through 47,

"And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little."

 The lesson to Simon was made plain. Simon owed 500 pence, but, he showed appreciation for merely 50 pence. While, on the other hand, Mary, who owed only 50 pence, showed appreciation for 500 pence. The contrast is clear. While Christ loved and helped both, they did not perceive it the same way. Sadly, the disciples were no better than Simon.  Let us read of their reaction to Mary's gift in Matthew 26:8-13, 

"But when his disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, To what purpose is this waste? For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor. When Jesus understood it, he said unto them, Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me. For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always. For in that she hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial. Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her."

 Here we find yet another contrast. The disciples chose the poor over the One who could feed the many from a few fish and some morsels of bread (Luke 9:16–17).  Mary, in contrast, chose Jesus – the better portion (Luke 10:42).   
 In her concern for Jesus, Mary relieved His suffering.  Ellen White elaborates in the following quotes,

"The fragrant gift which Mary had thought to lavish upon the dead body of the Saviour she poured upon His living form. At the burial its sweetness could only have pervaded the tomb; now it gladdened His heart with the assurance of her faith and love…And as He went down into the darkness of His great trial, He carried with Him the memory of that deed, an earnest of the love that would be His from His redeemed ones forever" (Conflict and Courage, p. 306).
"The desire that Mary had to do this service for her Lord was of more value to Christ than all the spikenard and precious ointment in the world, because it expressed her appreciation of the world's Redeemer. It was the love of Christ that constrained her. . . Mary, by the Holy Spirit's power, saw in Jesus One who had come to seek and to save the souls that were ready to perish. Every one of the disciples should have been inspired with a similar devotion" (Christ Triumphant p. 252, paragraph.4). 

Although, the disciples had privately received teachings regarding Jesus' approaching death, they were uncomfortable with the idea and resisted it, which later left them unprepared. Yet Mary, an untaught woman, not privy to the disciples' intimate knowledge of Jesus, was informed by the promptings of the Holy Spirit and believed. That kind of inspiration she received can only find an entrance in a broken and a contrite heart. Jesus commended Mary.  Will He commend us?