Advent: Day 13

December 13, 2023 | What Has Gotten Into You?

Today we are going to start by reading a story found in Mark 14:

While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of 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. 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.

“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 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. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” Mark 14:1-9

There are four similar accounts to this story in the Bible, and it’s believed that the woman pouring oil on Jesus is Mary of Bethany. She’s the Mary from the story of Mary and Martha and the sister of Lazarus.

In the story we read that it’s a few days before Jesus is arrested, and He is sitting at a table in Simon’s house with his friends, when Mary takes out a flask of nard, it’s basically a bottle of fragrant oil and she pours it on Jesus’ head.
Now this is important on so many levels. But from a purely logistical standpoint, the bottle of oil that she uses is worth 300 denarii which was equivalent to a year’s salary. This bottle of oil was probably Mary’s safety net. It’s her security and likely one of her most valuable possessions.

And she takes this bottle that was likely made of clay, breaks the neck to open it, and pours the whole thing on Jeus, it was full commitment, she didn’t just dab it on his forehead, she poured it all out, she didn’t hold anything back. She went all in. She doesn’t self-edit, or doubt herself, or wait for an invitation, she just went for it.

It was important that she did. Mary showed up for Jesus in a critical moment for him. He knew things were about to hit the fan if you will, and this was an act of pure love to care for Him so physically and extravagantly. It was likely even more important than Mary even realized. Jesus is the Messiah, and Messiah literally means the anointed one. And anointed means, to have oil symbolically poured on you. So this is was an prophetic statement, a fulfillment of prophecy that is being made here.

But while Mary is acting passionately and generously, there are a bunch of people watching who are judging her. They have appointed themselves as a jury of her peers. Lined up, taking in the evidence and they have already decided that she is guilty.

[Side note: speaking of a jury, have you ever really thought about jury duty? Jury duty is wild!!! I mean at any time the government can be like, ‘Hey sis, take the day off of work we need you to solve a murder. Here’s 15 dollars’. It’s pretty crazy, also If you haven’t watched the show called Jury Duty, You should it’s a reality show and it is brilliant.]

Anyway, the people who were at dinner and watched Mary pour oil on Jesus were observing and likely thinking, “What has gotten into her? How embarrassing for her! This is not appropriate”- and it definitely wasn’t. But then, they bring it up with Jesus, because they think she should have been more responsible and sold the perfume and given the money to the poor.

What does Jesus say?

“Leave her alone. She did what she could.”

Now, this wasn’t a resignation, like, [shrugs shoulders] well she did what she could.

It was a statement- She did what she could. Maybe even implying, what have you all done besides judging?

And then, Jesus says that Mary’s act of generosity and passion will be talked about anytime the Good News is preached.

This is incredibly moving.

And as I’ve been studying this passage, it’s teaching me a few things.

Mary is moved by love for Jesus and goes all in.

She is outrageously generous.

She risks judgement from others.

And because of all this, Jesus says it will be remembered.

What does it look like to go all in?

My friend Jason Jaggard shared something on Instagram that offers a unique way of answering this question. He asks, “Has anyone ever surprised you (in a good way) with their behavior? Maybe they came home, whisked you off your feet, looked deeply into your eyes and said, “Take a break, I’m making dinner tonight”. Or maybe they gave you a gift that blew your mind with how thoughtful it was. Maybe someone said, “I’m so sorry for what I did,” or “I really do forgive you”.

These moments are rare (if they ‘happen at all), but then again, how often do WE surprise others? How often do we whisk others off their feet or give good gifts, or deeply apologize. We tend not to whisk; we tend not to be whisked and after a while we begin to think that’s just the way it is. But why? Why not whisk? Why not do something “out of character”? Isn’t that what growth is all about- doing something new, something outside what other people expect from us or what we expect from ourselves?

We are made for growth, made for community, made for the joy of exploring how to love each other better. But most of the time we get stuck staying in the boundaries of who we think we are. So here is a reminder that at any moment we can choose to do something that makes people smile nervously and ask, “what has gotten into you”?

So may you let your inner hugging person loose- even if you’ve been suppressing them up until this point. May you tell people how much you love them even if it’s awkward. May you take your wife out dancing even though that’s normally not your thing. May you make the call, write the letter, try the new food, share about your faith, invite someone over. Whisk someone off their feet. And as you gather this Christmas, may multiple people look at you with a nervous smile and ask in the most delighted way, “What has gotten into you?”.

Daily Reading: Mark 14

December 14, 2023 | Split in Two
December 15, 2023 | The Other Side
December 16, 2023 | Nothing New Under the Sun