First Things @ First
I was reminded the other day of an old theatrical term that many are familiar with. The reminder came from the writings of author Charles Swindoll in his book that prioritizes striving for excellence. The phrase, "break a leg" has often been used before a person goes out on stage to perform. Swindoll applies a somewhat different term that speaks about going overboard (that's how some would describe it) in matters of exceptional or even exceptional giving. Not just in giving of one's possession but in giving one's full potential. The term Swindoll uses is "break a vase." Not because you're angry but rather because of your deep admiration for someone you love deeply.
Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus was such a person. You find the account in the gospels of Mark and John. (Lord willing, we'll dive a little deeper in a few weeks into the account in John 12)
In the account, Jesus is a few miles from Jerusalem at Bethany in the home of Simon the leper. That, by itself reveals how special this occasion was. Your host is a man who has been healed of leprosy and one of those that is dining with Jesus is Lazarus, a man once dead four days and yet dead no longer. Not one, but two miracle stories of life. Wouldn't you have like to have been there? Can you imagine the conversation?
The tiny village of Bethany was also the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. By all indications, Jesus was closer to these three in friendship than any others on earth. These four and more have gathered for what would be a final meal together on earth prior to Jesus crucifixion, although no one except Jesus is willing to talk about that. However, what Mary is about to do would speak volumes about her love for her Lord without saying a word, even in defending her action afterward. It is interesting that in all of scripture, there is no reference that Mary ever said anything. It was what Mary did that vividly declared her love and loyalty to Jesus.
During this special occasion, Mary brings a vase filled with extra-ordinarily expensive nard. (that's right--'nard') It was a full twelve ounces of very expensive perfume contained in beautiful, yet fragile vase. Nard was made from the dried leaves of a rare Himalayan plant. The scripture describes its cost in the 1st century as the equivalent to almost a year's wage. (300 denari in the 1st century) The cost of this precious ointment would have been by comparison valued at somewhere around $2,500 per ounce today. You can do the math, but this is going to be approximately a $30,000 offering as she with purpose and intent breaks the vase and spills out the entire contents over her Lord.
If there was any pause in responding with criticism, it was because Judas almost choked on his bread at the sight of what he had just witnessed. And Judas was not alone in scolding Mary for such an irresponsible display of extravagance.
Mark 14:4 says that others in the room, (that included some of Jesus' disciples) were indignant. They were very upset with Mary for her action and then attempted to justify by playing the 'how the poor could have been helped' card.
Mary never said a word in response. She didn't need to. What she had done was for Him, not for those who witnessed it. This had come from the heart and there was no putting a price on her love for Jesus. (Which is more than you can say for many of the others in the room that evening) Jesus quickly comes to her defense and in modern day speech said, "shut up and leave her alone." You gotta love that! Some pious person might respond, 'well the Jesus I know would never do such a thing'. It might be good to evaluate 'the Jesus' you say you know. Jesus is a Lion as well as a Lamb and when one of His own is threatened, He doesn't send somebody to help, He shows up Himself. Jesus responds to their criticism with these words; let them sink in... "She has done a good work for Me...She has done what she could...What she has done today will never be forgotten." And the Holy Spirit made sure of it when He directed those who would later pen the scripture.
1900 years plus have come and gone and yet what happened in this small house in this tiny village remains a standard of excellence in giving. It was not only what she gave but that she gave willingly and without hesitation. Mary intended to empty the contents of the vase and her heart onto the Lord whom she loved more than her own life.
Love still brings that kind of response today but more often it's directed toward something or someone else we love more than the Lord. People are still pouring out the contents of their life extravagantly on someone they deeply love or something they desperately desire to do. The issue is, what consequence will it carry? Will it be remembered? Will it carry meaning long after your life is lived here? What Mary gave entirely will be remembered eternally!
What have you given lately, either out of what God has provided or the potential in you that He has given that could be described, even criticized as 'over the top'? Way beyond what is normal or even expected? As children of God, we are given opportunities in life and even throughout life to do something exceptional, extravagant for Jesus for no reason other than we love Him. Mary didn't 'break a vase' every day and we need not 'break a vase' every day. But have you ever broken a vase out of overwhelming love and joy for Jesus?
What have you done in response to His love for you? What have you done lately?
Has it been up to now just a miserable display of 'just getting by' or will it be a memorable display of 'over the top' kind of giving.
Will you do anything in the future worthy of criticism from the world around you simply because God provided the means for you? Will you measure it back to Him extravagantly with thanksgiving and praise?
May well be time to 'break a vase' and leave a mark worth remembering.
God's best always!