Monday, February 28, 2011

Storyline: Mary of Bethany, #2

While Jesus was in Bethany, at 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, “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,” Jesus said. “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 for burial.  I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
Mark 14:3-9

Jesus only had a matter of days left to live.  He knew it.  He’d even predicted it.  Yet, no one seemed to take note.  No one, except one – Mary.  While her name is not mentioned in this passage, we know who she is from the story of Lazarus’ resurrection in John 10.  Sweet, quiet, reflective Mary had paid close attention to the words of Jesus as she sat at his feet.  She grasped what no one else did, the impending death of her Lord.  So, Mary responded in ways that no one else would have the courage, or the time, to do following Jesus’ arrest.  Thoughtfully, and sacrificially, she took the nard and anointed Jesus.   

Some important aspects need to be mentioned.
1)    The nard, we’re told, was worth an entire year’s wage.  Think of this in modern terms.  An average American holding a bachelor’s degree makes around $56,000.   That should give you some idea of why those in the room thought her so reckless. 
2)    The alabaster jar that contained the nard had to have been imported from India.  The jar, itself, was also pricey.
3)    These items were typically reserved in a woman’s “hope chest,” so to speak for a very special occasion, probably a wedding or even her funeral.  It was not uncommon that these things were purchased in advanced and reserved for these occasions.  So, Mary was giving to Jesus a very substantial part of her dowry.
4)    Once the seal on the jar was broken, the perfume lost its fragrance and its potency.  It could not be recycled, used sparingly, and saved for further use. 

Mary’s message was clear.  Her love for Jesus was worth reckless abandonment to the things the world held dear.  She cared not about the scorn, or the harsh rebuke...her thoughts were completely on honoring the one who had meant the world to her.  I believe deep in Mary’s heart, she knew what she was doing.  Jesus was about to be sacrificed and poured out, how could she not, sacrifice on his behalf?  “She has done a beautiful thing to me,” Jesus said. “What she has done will be told in memory of her wherever the gospel is preached.”  I have to ask myself, “What beautiful things am I doing for him?”  “How sacrificially do I offer the things I hold dear on his behalf?”  I am so grateful for grace, yet, I so often find myself fearful of what others might think of my service.  It’s hard to love extravagantly when others are watching.  Yet, it wasn’t for Mary.  Was that a direct result of her time at Jesus’ feet?  If so, guess I know where I want to be found more often than not!  Courage for abandonment will follow.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Storyline: Mary of Bethany

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.  She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.  But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.  She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?  Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.  Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her.”
Luke 10:36-42

Like this home in Bethany where Jesus visited, my home had three children – two girls and a boy.  Just like this home, no three children could have been more different.  It’s always odd to me just how distinctive children can be, who come from the same parents, are raised in the same house, under the same parenting styles.  We already know that Martha, full of good intentions, was a “fixer.”  This woman wasn’t one to sit still; rather, she had to be actively making things happen and, as a result, she was easily distracted.  We know she was a complicated ball of commotion, yet unafraid to just be herself; and, Jesus loved her.  Her sister was a polar opposite.  Mary was sensitive, intuitive, quiet, reflective, easy-going, and focused; Jesus loved her.  I love that Jesus loves diversity.  He’s not asking us to be something we’re not.  He is asking us to keep things simple, and to take time, from time-to-time, to be “women of one thing.” 

Please take note that Martha wasn’t wrong using her hospitality gifts.  She simply had taken on too much.  If she’d simplified, then Martha could have gotten in on the better part of the visit, time with Jesus.  All our good strivings are often enemy of the better thing.  Mary’s intuition served her well.  Somehow she seemed to realize this was a moment that could never be recaptured.  She knew she needed to glean all she could from the life of her Lord, for somehow, she had a sense that he would not be with them long (we’ll see this more clearly when we look at another snapshot of Mary’s life next week).  I tend to be of the opinion that Mary realized she needed the words of the Teacher deeply imbedded in her heart for the journey ahead.  Jesus was not about to rob her of that opportunity. 

Jesus has words for us every day – words for our journeys.  He knows a visit with him, through prayer and in Scripture, is the better part of our day.  Yet, we often are robbed of that opportunity by all our plans, activities, and busyness. They aren’t bad things; we aren’t wrong in doing them.  We simply need to streamline, prioritize, and carve out moments to sit at his feet.  Let go of the distractions and listen...then, and only then, will we be ready to serve him completely and effectively (we’ll see that next week, too).

Monday, February 14, 2011

Storyline: Martha, #2

When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed home.  “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.  But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” 

Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb.  It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance.  “Take away the stone,” he said.  “But Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”  Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”
John 11:20-22, 38-40

Ah, Martha.  Let’s not rush past her yet.  Last week we learned that Martha felt safe with Jesus.  She trusted him enough to reveal the messy side of her nature to him.  Martha even had a measure of faith that most Jews didn’t possess; she firmly stated her belief in the final resurrection of the dead.  Though she was disappointed in Jesus’ seeming lack of compassion when her brother was ill, she expressed a measure of faith that Jesus could still “do something”...  Yet, in a matter of minutes her measure of faith showed its limitation.  When Jesus asked for the stone to be removed from Lazarus’ grave, reality rose to the surface.  Lazarus had been in there for four days:  long enough for decay to set in; long enough for his soul to have departed (Jewish religion believed that on the fourth day following death the soul ventured away from the body); long enough for the “stink” to be bad!  

Ever felt a measure of belief, only to realize that it was stunted by a reality check?   I, most definitely, have.  I often come up lacking in this department.  Like Martha, it is easier to believe in the BIGGER MIRACLE of eternal life and resurrection at the last day, but, then, find myself coming up short on the “smaller” miracle of raising the current "dead" that surround my life.  For example, I don’t question my eternal life, or the “life-after-death” of my loved ones who are “in Christ”, but I do question whether the Lord will “raise up” dreams that have died, or a plan that has been taken away prematurely.  I don’t question that Jesus is “the resurrection and the life,” but is he the resurrection of marriages which have lost their “soul”?  Is he the restorer of “life” to the areas of my life that seem to be decaying before my eyes?  Can he make perfume out of the things that absolutely stink about my life?  I’m guessing I’m not the only one who wonders this...

Yet, I think this story is here to remind us that he cares.  He weeps with us for the things that are lost to us, the death of dreams, the vanished hopes, and the demise of comfort, satisfaction, and/or pleasure.  He longs to show us His glory...if we believe.  Someone once told me, the outcome of belief is always a revelation of the glory of God.  Yes, Jesus cares.  He wants to reveal the glory of God; and, he wants to show us that he is still Lord over the grave...any grave.

So, my response to this aspect of Martha’s life is to do what the desperate father, whose dreams for his son were slowly dying, did when he stood before Jesus:  Immediately, the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Storyline: Martha

Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.  She came to (Jesus) and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself?  Tell her to help me!”  Luke 10:40

When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed home.  “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.  But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”  John 11:20-22

With a hop, skip, and a jump, we’re back in the New Testament to glance into the life of Martha.  Jesus loved Martha (John 11:5).  I love her, as well.  I have often thought I could relate most to this woman of overzealous servant, filling my plate with too much do-gooding, having a bit of a case of “limelightitis,” and easily distracted with people-pleasing.  I’ve only focused on the negative of Martha’s character.  That’s often easy for us to do with other people, isn’t it?  However, I’m convicted of that kind of judgment, and want to honor Martha’s positive traits.   She has many, you know, but one in particular.

If you read the Scripture above, what stands out to you:  Martha’s self-pity; or, maybe her attempts at putting a guilt-trip on Jesus?  How about her “bossiness”?  Yes, I can see some of those things, too.  However, as I was reading her story this morning, something else hit me – her honesty, her vulnerability, and, even, her authenticity with Jesus. 

Here’s what struck me:  Martha felt SAFE in the love of Jesus.  She felt so safe, in fact, that she was able to be herself – her very messy, very confused, and sometimes, very self-centered self.  While it tells me a lot about Jesus, it speaks volumes about Martha.  She had no trust issues where her Lord was concerned. 

Sadly, many days, I am reminded that I do (have trust issues).  Often, I am careful how I petition the Lord in prayer.  Sometimes, I color my pain with pretty colors.  Sometimes, I dress my heart up in its finest, and put on a good front, even with Jesus.  Sometimes, I even build a big brick wall, put a padlock on the gate, and dig a moat that I fill with water and crocodiles, hoping that he gets the message: stay out of this area.   

Martha reminded me this morning that Jesus is not over-advertised; he is under-trusted.  Jesus is not over-rated; he is under-estimated.  Jesus is completely, 100% safe, and he doesn’t care about the mess our souls are in, nor is he bothered with how tangled and twisted the barbed wire has gotten around them.  If there’s any place we can take our sorrows, distractions, and frustrations, and not be condemned, it’s to Jesus. 

May we learn this lesson well from a woman who came before him boldly, in all honesty, and placed her pain in the palm of his soon-to-be nail scarred hands!

Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Hebrews 4:16.