Human beings have an almost universal tendency. We put ourselves into the story.
Watching the news we wonder what it would be like to be the subject of that story, or we internally express thankfulness that, “It wasn’t about us.”
One of our favorite responses in conversation is, “Here is what I would do.”
When reading the Bible we generally pick one of the characters in each story to identify with, and that becomes the basis for the lesson we receive.
We are always putting ourselves in the story.
I recently reread a story I have studied, taught and preached on dozens of times, and I was blown away by new things God revealed.
Most shockingly, I wasn’t the character in the story I thought was, but I will save that for later.
Mark 14:3 And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. 4 There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? 5 For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. 6 But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7 For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. 8 She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. 9 And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”
There are three lessons that jumped out at me in my most recent reading of this passage.
Lesson one: offerings
We make offerings to the Lord on a regular basis, but there was something special about this offering. Jesus was obviously very pleased with it. What made it different?
Whether it is a financial offering, a display of service, or a personal sacrifice, why was Jesus so pleased with this offering?
- Pure nard: We focus so much on what nard was as an ancient perfume that we miss the fact it was “pure.” So many times our offerings are contaminated by motives. Whether it is to get something back, or the motive of guilt feelings that compelled us to make the offering in the first place. A truly acceptable offering is one that comes out of pure motivation. A desire to honor God for all that He has already done for us. A gift of thankfulness!
- Very costly: This acceptable offering was one that cost something, in fact, it cost a lot . It wasn’t given out of excess, what was left over. It was a huge sacrifice. Too many times our offerings are considered a sacrifice because they cut into our free money, our hobby time, our overages. I believe one of the reasons Jesus was so pleased with this offering was because it was so sacrificial. Many in Jesus day would keep a container like this it as a retirement for the family. She basically brought in the 401(k), the family security, and made it an offering to Jesus.
- Broke the flask: This is probably the most dramatic part of her offering.An alabaster jar was not meant to be opened and resealed. Once opened its contents were to be used. The very fact that she broke the flash was an indication that her offering was unreserved! She would not hold anything back, not just sacrifice, it was everything.
- Poured out: This is the key element to her offering, she gave it away. Now, if you’re like most of us you focus on the word “gave,” but this portion of her offering focuses on the word “away.” Too often we give a financial gift to a charity/church because its something we want to have at the church, or want to see done. Too often we offer our gifts of service, not for those who need it, but because it makes us feel good.
I think if we are honest, the example of this offering would rebuke most of us. I know our offerings can be selfish, limited, and controlled.
The incredible irony is this, most of us make an offering to get something, but this woman made an offering of her free will with no apparent hope of return.
Yet, as she broke open the alabaster jar and poured its contents on our Savior’s head, and then bent down to wipe His feet with her hair (which we know from the same story in another Gospel), she got that blessing all over herself.
I guess it truly is better to give than to receive.
Lesson two: the critics
Verses four and five show the process of being critical. From internal rumblings to outward expressions, this passage from the Bible outlines the process of the critical spirit.
- They said to themselves: It all starts in the thought life. Having a critical spirit begins with internal negative rumblings, sick little thoughts and talking to yourself about others and their actions in a less than positive way. You can be all smiles on the outside, and be festering the disease of a critical spirit on the inside.
- Indignantly: Thoughts move us into attitudes. Often we are not just in a bad mood, but our thoughts have swirled into a storm of emotion that causes us to have inappropriate, negative and destructive attitudes. This is the borderline from which our internal critical spirit begins to emerge into the external.
- Wasted like that: Now comes the outward expression, judgment and criticism. After the thought life has spun out of control and the boiling up of the emotions and attitudes have taken their toll, the critical spirit erupts like a volcano in words that are biting and sharp. Often, the one with a critical spirit feels justified because they are “speaking the truth.” However, this truth is a fabrication created by their own internal/sinful process
- Could have been: Those with the critical spirit always have a better idea, a better plan and are willing to offer advice as to what someone else should do. When you foster a critical spirit you not only point a finger at what you don’t like, as lord of your own universe you have plans to reconstruct the world around you as it should be under your reign.
- Scolded her: The final part of the process regarding the critical spirit is simply punishment. Whether you simply shame some with your words, shun them with your actions, or exercise authority over them in a negative way, the one fostering a critical spirit will often punish those who are the object of their criticism. Since they cannot have their own way, they will make it miserable for the objects of their criticism.
Usually, those with the critical spirit are unaware. They simply see themselves as more spiritual, more intelligent, or simply more aware than those around them. If you can identify with any of the above steps or processes in being critical, you should take this scriptural lesson as a blessing.
It is the opportunity to look into a mirror and see the truth, repent, and change your direction because God has been gracious to show it to you.
Lesson number three: The Jesus perspective
Removing ourselves from the position of the one making the offering, and moving away from examining those with the critical spirit, what was Jesus perspective on all of this?
While He said many things, there was one central element to His response.
I love the fact that He took up for her and rebuked the others by saying “Leave her alone.” There seems to be some justice in that, but it is not the central part of His response.
His cultural response is very interesting as well, “the poor you will always have” but you won’t always have Me. Basically, He was saying enjoy your time with Me and quit being so fussy. Still, this was not the core of His response.
The central response of Jesus regarding this woman and her offering to a roomful of critics is simply this: “She’s done all she could.”
This was obviously more than enough for Jesus!
This is why our Savior was so happy with her. It wasn’t the extravagance of the gift, or the way she presented it, or even the obstacles she faced just to bring it. He loved the fact that it was all she could do. She left nothing on the table, she put it all out on the field, this offering was complete.
So, here’s the big question: in our offerings of money, service, and personal lives… is our offering complete?
If the answer is yes, then Jesus himself will defend us despite the critics. Continue to offer and worship, and ignore that world around you.
But, as will be the case for most of us, if we are honest we know our offerings are incomplete. Then answer is no, our offerings are incomplete, and the critics around us are actually a blessing in disguise.
These are questions only you can answer, but they are questions that must be asked.
Speaking of questions, you may remember my statement at the beginning about putting ourselves into the story. You may even be asking, “So, Andy, where did you put yourself in the story?”
As I prayed through this passage during my devotional time, I did what I usually do in the dozens of times I’ve studied this verse. I put myself in the role of the hero, the woman making the offering. I held her standard of offering up against mine and was sure that God was wanting to rebuke me for my incomplete offering.
While all that was true, the Lord wouldn’t let me off that easy.
I was unsettled in my prayer time until I acknowledged that God was not wanting me to learn the lesson of the hero, but the lesson of the critics. I know from the other versions of the story in the other Gospels that the chief critic was Judas, and it’s a hard pill to swallow when God asks you to put yourself in his shoes.
So, Lord, in front of you and all of the CrossEyedLife world… please forgive. And, beyond that, please correct. I want my entire life to be an acceptable offering to You, and I definitely do not want to hang on to a critical spirit.
And, to you my friends, whether it is lesson one, two or three, allow the Lord to show you where you are in the story.
Hear His voice… make a change.