What does selfless devotion really mean to me? How do I live my life in such a way that nothing or anyone takes away from my relationship with Christ? In what ways have I allowed things to replace that space that is to be reserved for God? These are some questions I have been challenged to consider over the past couple weeks.
At a memoir writing workshop I enjoyed attending this week, the guest author/speaker led us through several composition exercises. She also encouraged us to continue at home with more assignments, one of which involves writing about a possession we treasure. Although I haven’t yet completed this, I expect it will be enlightening.
This week as I studied a very familiar passage of Scripture, the Lord gave me a fresh perspective on a model of selfless devotion contrasted with a glaring example of selfish greed. It’s found in Mark 14:3-11,
“While He (Jesus) was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on His head.” (NIV)
First of all, for a woman in that time and culture, to enter a room full of men eating in such a manner would have been imprudent and inappropriate. Furthermore, her actions may have implied impropriety in their eyes and it was a very risky move. What makes the story even more compelling is her lavish expression of love and devotion for Jesus. I believe she understood that He was the long-ago promised Messiah and she sacrificed, no doubt, her most precious possession to anoint her Saviour.
Alabaster is a mineral that was commonly used in ancient times to make perfume and ointment bottles. Because of its transparent nature, the attractiveness of such items was enhanced. Usually white in colour, it could also be found in yellow or red and the extraction method from limestone caves or hot springs contributed to the bottles being so expensive. The alabaster of the Bible times mostly came from the Orient or Egypt.
Nard oil comes from the Valeria plant which grows in Nepal and the Himalayan regions of China and India. Its intense fragrance makes it popular for perfumes and incense. It also has medicinal qualities that are used for sedation, skin ailments, and palliative care. In ancient times it was used as a burial ointment. The perfume this woman possessed was much more valuable than your most expensive Chanel, Gucci, or Estee Lauder collections. In fact, Scripture states it was worth an entire year’s wages!
“Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, ‘Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor’. And they rebuked her harshly.” (Mark 14:4-5, NIV). Matthew’s account in 26:8-9 clearly indicates “those present” were Jesus’ disciples.
A year’s wages in those days was about 300 Greek Denarii and in the minds of the disciples this was an extravagant waste when so many hungry people scrounged for food outside in the street. But I love Jesus’ reply,
“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied, “Why are you bothering her? The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial.” (Mark 14:6-8, NIV)
Whether or not this woman was aware of Jesus’ imminent death and sacrifice of His life to forgive our sins, she chose her most precious possession to express the depth of her love and devotion to Him. Would I have been willing to act so selflessly or would I allow my most prized belonging to take precedence over my relationship with Christ? I wonder…
In stark contrast to this woman was Jesus’ disciple, Judas Iscariot, who was known for his greedy control over the disciples’ money bag and he frequently stole from it. Instead of devoting his life to following and serving Christ, he looked for every chance to serve himself and betray the very One who had chosen him to be part of this elite group. Immediately after witnessing the woman’s unreserved sacrifice, Judas “…went to the chief priests and asked, ‘What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?’ So they counted out for him thirty silver coins. From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over.” (Matthew 26:14-16) He sold Jesus out for about four month’s wages of a skilled laborer. What blatant blasphemy!!
My intention this week will be to discover what I treasure most and determine whether it prevents me in any way from devoting myself selflessly to God. May God give me the courage to follow through!
Until next Sunday,