Mary of Bethany’s story is one of the most extravagant displays of surrender in all of scripture. Undone by the compassion of Jesus, she disrupted a banquet and poured over Jesus an entire jar of pure, fragrant nard. The perfume she poured over him was worth over a year’s wages (in today’s terms, approximately $40,000-$50,000).
Her lavishness astounded, even angered those around her. But Jesus was deeply moved by her extravagance and honored her. What others called a “waste,” Jesus called “beautiful.”
What is it about Mary’s story that has captivated hearts for generations? Something about her extravagant offering compels and amazes us even today.
HER STORY ACCORDING TO SCRIPTURE
While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table 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 anytime you want. But you will not always have me. 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.
“She has done a beautiful thing for me…Not only did Jesus call her extravagant offering beautiful, he saw that it was the one thing she could offer.
"She did what she could." This phrase is so breathtakingly liberating for me to read. What she did may have seemed illogical, impractical, and impulsive. And I have no doubt that she knew that. I imagine she grappled with the preposterousness of her gift before she went. But she had to give something. Her heart longed to offer something of value to Jesus. And this was she had.
She gave what she had.
She did what she could.
And that is the best possible offering we could give to God. What do I have to offer that is uniquely mine to give?
WHAT'S MY OFFERING?
I think we often look at what we have and devalue it for a myriad of reasons: it's not practical, it's not valuable enough, it's frivolous, it doesn't make sense, it's silly...but none of these are important. Rather, what do have to offer?
I think if we're honest, there's something of breathtaking value in each of us. Not necessarily monetary value or physical value or value to anyone else except us. But when we offer that one thing to Jesus, it is a precious offering and a fragrant aroma of praise.
NOT EVERYONE WILL UNDERSTAND
People won't always get it, though. In fact, they'll probably accuse you of recklessness and foolishness. They might be indignant towards you. People won't understand and after you've poured out your offering, the accusations will start coming. And it can be intensely painful to give such an expensive a gift and then have a whole slew of accusing voices and judging eyes. But there's only one opinion that matters. And Jesus defended Mary.
Oftentimes our offerings are in secret. No one knows but us and Jesus. But some offerings are in public. Sometimes, the very nature of a public offering is what makes it so costly. No one can truly understand the cost of your offering personally, but Jesus does. And certain offerings require laying aside people’s opinions and pouring everything upon Jesus.
I'D RATHER BE A FOOL
1 Corinthians 1:25
The foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.
Often when we follow God and we offer him our lives, we look like fools. In Mary’s case, extravagant worship meant looking like a fool. However, Jesus honored her for her courage. He was deeply moved by her heart of worship. Likewise, God is still moved today by an outlandish heart of surrender.
Allow Mary’s story to inspire you, move you, and stir up courage within you.
What would it look like for you to offer God a gift of extravagant surrender?