Sunday, July 27, 2008

Oil of Love

'Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.'
John 12: 3

It's interesting how a seemingly obscure and simple passage of Scripture will suddenly breathe profound truth into our hearts. For some reason - I think it's because of our fallen humanity - we seem to fall for the idea that only the most complex, theologically rich passages of Scripture can teach us real truth. Oftentimes, though, the simplest and most unassuming places of God's Word capture our hearts, revealing a new and beautifully subtle reality. That happened for me recently as I read the Gospel of John.

The account that so moved my heart is found in the context of a supper in Bethany at which Jesus is present, along with his friends and disciples. At one point Mary takes a pound of very expensive oil, which at the time would have been worth one year's wages. She pours the oil over the feet of Jesus and wipes His feet with her hair.

It's interesting to me that Jesus didn't ask her to do what she did, nor did anyone else. In fact, Mary's very action seems to be portrayed like something that occurred in the background while everyone else reclined (perhaps in conversation) at the dinner table. She wasn't looking for an audience. She also didn't care how silly it might look. Still, she chose to do it.

And what she chose to do seems, at the onset, rather strange. Remember, the oil she used was worth one year's wages! And she not only wiped the oil herself, but she wiped it with her hair. Because a woman's hair symbolized her beauty and glory, Mary's action here is especially touching. In order to show her humble devotion and love for Jesus, she quietly pours the oil, bends down, and strokes the dirtiest part of His body with the image of her glory.

She loved Him. Mary loved Jesus. It's all so simple. And so profound.

God has captured my heart with this account of Mary's love for Jesus. He has also used it to break my heart. I struggle so deeply with arrogance and pride, the very characteristics that are the direct antitheses of God. He knew I needed to understand the simple truth behind this story of Jesus and Mary, to see in Mary the kind of beautiful humility that I so often lack. Now that I see it so clearly, I pray that He will help me show Him the kind of love that Mary showed. It's the kind of love that is willing to let go of personal glory, and perhaps get dirty in the process. It's a dangerous and sacrificial love. But it's the only kind that really counts.

A poem and a song which both mirror the story of Mary's devotional love for Christ, dear to me in the past but since rather hazy, God has brought to the forefront of my mind in recent days. I'd like to end by sharing the words and lyrics to each. The first is a song that was sung often in my dearly missed fellowship of Imago Dei in Portland, Oregon. The second is a poem by Hannah Hurnard and can be found in her book Hinds Feet on High Places.
I will offer up my life in Spirit and Truth,
Pouring out the oil of love as my worship to You.
In surrender I must give my every part.
Lord receive the sacrifice of a broken heart.
Jesus, what can I give? What can I bring?
To so faithful a Friend, to so loving a King.
Jesus, what can be said? What can be sung?
As a praise of Your Name for the things You have done.
Oh my words could not tell, not even in part,
Of the debt of love that is owed by this grateful heart.

A poem by Hannah Hurnard
From Hinds Feet on High Places

Now when the King at table sits,
My spikenard smelleth sweet,
And myrrh and camphire from my store
I pour upon His feet.
My thankful love must be displayed,
He loved and wooed a beggar maid.
I am not fair save to the King,
Though fair my royal dress,
His kingly grace is lavished on
My need and worthlessness.
My blemishes He will not see,
But loves the beauty that shall be.

By God's grace, maybe my own house -- and yours -- will be filled with the fragrance of the oil of love for Jesus.

Like Mary.

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