And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” Mark 14:3-9 [Emphasis added]
My mother-in-law Diane, a dear Christian mentor and friend, surprised me when she expressed her uncertainty about whether she had “done enough” in the last months of her husband’s life as he suffered from bone cancer. Managing his pain was often difficult, but I witnessed Diane not only pray for him, but research every medical possibility for pain management as well as for healing. Rarely did she leave his side, spending countless days and nights in hospitals. To me, she gave new meaning to “until death do us part.” How could Diane wonder if she had done enough? Yet at times, haven’t we all pondered this same question? I have discovered that Jesus’ words to an ordinary woman are a reminder of the assurance and peace we can enjoy regarding our efforts.
In the tumultuous days before His death, Jesus informed the disciples of His upcoming suffering. Confused by what He meant, His disciples did not always act with selfless abandon toward their Savior. They argued about who would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven; Judas betrayed Him; and, ultimately, even Peter denied Him. One person, however, was singled out by Jesus and recognized for an act of devotion and service to Him. This person was not one of the disciples, but rather, a woman from Bethany (identified as Mary in the Gospel of John).
Mary poured perfume on Jesus. Jesus understood Mary’s actions and He defended her when those who witnessed the display were appalled. “Leave her alone,” said Jesus, “Why are you troubling her?” Mary’s actions were so meaningful to Jesus that He wanted to assure us that throughout history not only what she had done, but she, herself, would be remembered. Jesus never said: Remember Peter. Remember John. Remember what my disciples have done. But, when the Gospel is told, Mary is to be remembered. “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.” Jesus understood that what Mary did was costly, bold and faithful. John records that she had saved the perfume for the day of His burial. The perfume was equivalent in value to a year’s wages. Yet she was willing to give this freely.
She boldly approached Jesus in the presence of men—as we learn in John— to pour the perfume on Jesus’ feet and wipe His feet with her hair. The reaction of some who watched was evidence of the social taboo she committed. Mary had to know she was risking public admonishment for her actions. Yet, her compelling desire to honor Jesus outweighed any fear.
Mary was extravagant in her faith. Jesus had told His disciples that He must die and rise again. Mary believed, and came in humility to anoint Him for His burial. “She has done a beautiful thing to me,” Jesus declared. We can hear the tenderness in His voice. We can imagine the comfort He felt in the midst of a struggle that would soon cost Him His life. Mary couldn’t save Him from the cross. And, as a woman in a patriarchal society, Mary couldn’t sit beside Him at the Last Supper. But she found a way to do something for Christ. And what did Jesus say? He said, “…she did what she could.”
What can we learn from Mary? As we know from Scripture, Mary took the time to get to know Jesus as she sat at His feet. (Luke 10:38-41). She turned to Him for direction in time of trials, as when she sought Him at the time of her brother, Lazarus’s illness. (John 11:1-44). She had made Jesus her priority. Mary knew to be ready to serve Him with the gifts she possessed. And, Mary was ready to do what she could and leave the future up to the will of God.
My mother-in-law, Diane, has since passed on and joined her husband in heaven. Years ago, when she asked if she had “done enough,” I knew what she’d hoped. She had wanted to rid her husband of his pain and find a pathway that would lead to a complete cure. But she couldn’t control those circumstances any more than Mary could change the course of events for Jesus. What Diane could do and did do was to know Jesus by “sitting at His feet” through daily prayers and lifelong Bible study. She made Jesus her priority in every way possible and was ready to serve Him with the gifts she possessed. Although she could not do all she wanted, I felt certain she had done enough and I told her so. But if I could do it again, I’d also remind Diane of how Jesus said of Mary, “she did what she could.” Those words to Mary; Mary’s act of devotion to her Lord; and, the legacy of Diane’s life are profoundly encouraging to me today. We can all strive to do what we can. Find peace in that. And leave the rest up to the will of God.