Mary and Martha had seen the glory of God in the amazing resurrection of Lazarus. They were eye witnesses of his power to save from the bondage of death. Friends and neighbours who were there at the tomb of Lazarus saw a sign and a mighty wonder. They saw and believed on him. Mary saw, believed and pondered.

Mary became increasingly aware of a threatening crisis and the Lord’s impending death while the other disciples understood none of these things. Mary was a quiet observer and listener. She saw and believed that Jesus was indeed the Messiah but she also perceived that Messiah the Lord must first be cut off as the suffering servant of Yahweh.

So the precious hours passed, her senses quickened, her heart racked by strong emotions. She felt a sense of overwhelming loss. She noted the sad and sombre countenance of her Lord, the reflective gaze, the prayerful meditation as the Lord faced the horror of great darkness. She noted the earnestness of her Lord’s voice as he encouraged his friends to be strong and of good courage.

Her spirits sagged in empathy for her Lord’s sufferings conscious of the open hostility by the chief priests, scribes and Pharisees dogging his every step, seeking ways and means of getting rid of this troublemaker. Mary’s heart was full of love and devotion to her Lord, a man full of grace and truth, who in every action and word was from above, who brought a transforming love of God into the lives ofso many. He had lifted her gaze to behold wondrous things out of God’s Law. She had marvelled at the gracious words he uttered. Her mind had soared to great heights but now she knew she was about to lose the light of her life. It was a dreadful realisation but she knew it was true. In days or hours, she knew she would see her Lord and Master no more. Her mind raced. How could she show her love to her Lord? Words would seem so inadequate and powerless to express her feelings for him who had given his whole life in devoted service to his God, to his friends, to his nation. The words of the prophets painted an awful scene in her mind. He was to be taken from prison and from judgment, to be cut off out of the land of the living, and to make his grave with the wicked. If his own words were to come true, he was to be condemned to death, delivered to Gentiles to be mocked, scourged and crucified, suffering an agonising, shameful death and burial in a commoner’s pit. If that dreadful sequence was to eventuate, knowing in her heart it was to be so, she must aforetime anoint her Lord and symbolically give her Lord an honourable burial. But time was running out. She didn’t hesitate. John records:

 “Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair” (12:3). Matthew and Mark also record that she anointed his head; then she stooped down and tenderly wiped his feet with her hair. And John adds the telling point – “the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume”.

The Lord who could see into the heart of Mary was deeply moved. Her actions were understood by the Lord. It was a tender moment of deep love and profound homage to a great king. The value, equal to ten months of a labourer’s wages, was an anointing befitting the burial preparation of sweet spices and ointments for one of high rank in Israel. The Lord was deeply touched. Judas, leading on the other eleven, with a cold heart of unbelief protested at the waste. In mock righteous indignation Judas claimed that such precious perfume could have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor. But she had given to the poor! The Son of God was rich but became poor for their sakes. They had the poor always, but “me ye have not always”.

A loving tender moment was crushed by chilling criticism. We can imagine the embarrassment of Mary as hard eyes censured her recklessness. In her red-faced awkwardness she would wonder if she had been guilty of wanton wastefulness for there were many thousands in Israel living in abject poverty. Feelings of shame would give her a sinking feeling of doubt and despair. But the Lord quickly and decisively cut short the criticism and warmly pays tribute to her faith, to her perception and to her devotion, “Let her alone; why trouble ye her? For she hath wrought a good work on me” . It is a scene charged with emotion and intense feeling: Mary’s loving devotion, Judas’ cold judgment of motives, and the Lord’s quick defence and blessing upon a warm, generous spirit of loving service. Mary did what she could; she wrought a good work. It was but one action, one symbolic gesture of love and devotion expressing all her heart’s desire.

And the scene is rich with lessons for us. In our love for our Lord and his brethren and sisters if ever we become aware of personal suffering, heartache, a heaviness of spirit: don’t hesitate, don’t count the cost of personal convenience. Give of your love and tender affection as unto the Lord. There is something very beautiful about a selfless brother or sister who without partiality, spontaneously, discreetly lifts the hands that hang down and strengthens the feeble knees.

That warm, generous, thoughtful spirit of brotherly love is not unique to sisters alone for brethren and sisters equally can lovingly minister. However, it is in the providence of God that sisters are often in a position to add those loving touches of care and concern: a little encouraging note full of cheer, a posy of flowers, an extra casserole, an extra place or two at the dinner table, a little parcel of clothes, an earnest prayer that God may heal and restore where we can only support and encourage. That spirit is as a fragrance of great price rising as a sweet savour to God, a lovely spirit to behold in our midst and it is done unto the Lord when done unto his own. It is a truism that we serve the best when we serve the least. It is a fragrance that fills the household of God adding grace, faith and courage to the gathering of the saints and all are uplifted by that ministration.

Have we done what we could? Have we procrastinated and lost the opportunity to refresh a weary traveller as we sojourn along the way to the Kingdom. Have we in effect said, “depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled”: words without action betraying a faith without works? How many opportunities have we side-stepped?

Many times we have had the alabaster box in our hand and not broken it.

Let us not keep to ourselves the precious love of Christ. It should constrain us because, if Christ died for all, “ they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves but unto him which died for them, and rose again” (2 Cor 5:14-15). The love of Christ should fill our hearts with joy and radiate out in a pleasant, positive, joyful spirit to others. But, by nature, we are self-centred. Paul says, “all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s” (Phil 2:21). Paul found few like Timothy who naturally cared for their state. We can so easily be tardy, selective in our response, and partial in our judgment. We also have a problem in that we live in a world that is hard and indifferent, that is increasingly selfish in these recessionary times. We can hold back, protecting our own resources “just in case”.

It has been well said, “It is not the things that can be bought that are life’s richest treasure – it’s just the little heartfelt gifts that money cannot measure.

A cheerful smile, a friendly word, a sympatheticnod – are life’s priceless little treasures from the storehouse of our God. These are things that cannot be bought, with silver or with gold. For thoughtfulness and kindness and love are never sold. They are the priceless things in life, for which no one can repay, and the giver finds rich recompense, in giving them away”. Whatever we expend in giving time and support is but a little sacrifice; the rewards far outweigh the cost. The hospitality given enriches our lives and the lives of our children. We are not the poorer for having a generous spirit.

A more positive love of the brotherhood near and far with wider horizons of interest and concern as to how our brethren and sisters fare, will then occupy our mind. It will lift our minds above pettiness, envy, jealousy, and carping criticism against the good efforts of sincere brethren and sisters that so depress the spirit. We need to overcome evil withgood. We need to see each day as an opportunity to do what we can for our Lord and for his people.

Principally let us love our Lord Jesus Christ with more fervour and more devotion. Let the fragrant spirit of a Mary fill our gatherings together with fellow saints where Christ becomes the focal point of our lives. It is there that we all bow the knee in humble adoration to his greatness for he is Lord and Christ who has redeemed us to God by his precious blood. We have but one response to himwho has so wonderfully transformed our lives. Realising what we owe to him we have, in this poignant episode, a tender act of loving devotion for us to emulate.

Let us then fill the house of our brethren and sisters with the fragrance of great price, the humble, devout and sincere love and service as unto the Lord which in the sight of God is most precious.