My mum was a quiet lady; she was gentle and kind and wise. Growing up, I always remember her using the expression, “Actions speak louder than words.” She used it to teach me the value of showing that I meant something was more authentic than just saying the words and perhaps not following it up or living it out.
This came to mind as I studied the accounts we read in the gospels of Mary of Bethany. What she did had more impact, even for us today, than what she said. We only hear of her speaking one time, when she encountered Jesus after Lazarus’ death. There she said, “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:32). Mary’s words expressed faith and trust, even in her sorrow and grief, and they are backed up by a life lived in surrender and devotion to the Lord.
When we read the account of how Mary poured out the perfume on Jesus’ feet we see that her worship was intentional and costly (John 12:1–11). She knew she would be in the presence of Jesus when He came for dinner, so she came prepared. There’s a lesson here, too, if we pause to consider how, perhaps sometimes, we rush straight into our quiet times to get a word for the day, present our requests in prayer, and then off we go back out into our busy lives. Maybe we even arrive at our church services with hearts that are not prepared to meet with the living God and to hear from His Word.
Mary brought something to her worship of Jesus that was precious and sacrificial. John tells us that she anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive aromatic oil made from pure nard (John 12:3). This would have been worth about a year’s wages! Then we read that she wiped his feet dry with her hair. These actions would have been very out of place in the culture of the day, yet Mary did not care for others’ opinions of her or how they might judge or criticize her. She lived to love Jesus wholeheartedly and poured out her all before Him.
Mary’s worship was also fueled by thankfulness for the amazing, miraculous thing that Jesus had just done: He raised her brother Lazarus back from the dead! Gratitude and praise are a natural response to this incredible answer to her heart’s cry, as only days before she was filled with sorrow and grief.
What then do we do when our prayers are not answered in the way we hoped, when the healing doesn’t come, or when it seems that Jesus doesn’t show up? Is He any less worthy of our worship? No, of course not. It’s not easy, it may not come naturally, but when we pour out our hearts in real, raw, honest despair and disappointment, it becomes a sacrifice of praise to the One who gave His all for us. And there, in our brokenness, Jesus meets us and pours out the healing balm of His presence and peace, giving His beautifully surrendered daughter the divine exchange of “a crown of beauty for ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair” (Isaiah 61:3, NIV).
Mary’s act of worship symbolized more than she ever realized at that moment, as she anointed Jesus “for the day of my burial” (John 12:7), which Jesus explains to Judas, who protested at Mary’s extravagant action. Little did they know that what lay ahead that very week would lead to the ultimate act of sacrifice and submission, as Jesus’ life was poured out upon the cross because of His great love for you and me.
Let’s pause here together, for a moment, at the foot of the cross.
Bowed in worship and awe, receiving His forgiveness and cleansing, allowing His unconditional, extravagant love to flood our souls and remind us that we are His. Chosen. Rescued. Redeemed. Restored.
Like Mary, may we choose the better part and pursue the presence of Jesus in our lives more and more.
“Therefore, be imitators of God as dearly loved children and live in love, just as Christ also loved us and gave himself for us, a sacrificial and fragrant offering to God.” Ephesians 5:1–2
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