“Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her” (Matthew 26:13).
These words were spoken by Jesus about Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. Mary, of course, is famous for giving her full, undistracted attention to Jesus in Luke 10:38-42, while her sister Martha gave her partial, distracted attention to hospitality. More than a few of us have been challenged by the penetrating look in the mirror that Martha offers.
But that story isn’t Mary’s only claim to fame. In fact, here in Matthew 16 Jesus is so delighted with her actions that he promises she will be commemorated wherever the gospel is preached. That’s pretty remarkable. Jesus guarantees a legacy for Mary that would last forever. Her actions were to be an exclamation point on the gospel message as it spread across the world.
What she did, off course, was make a public scene by walking into a house full of people and pouring an expensive bottle of perfume on Jesus’ head and feet and then wiping his feet with her hair. In John’s gospel, we learn that this perfume was worth 300 denarii, which was the equivalent of about a year’s wages for a laborer, and evidently everyone in the room knew just how much it was worth. These had to have been an awkward few moments. She’s derided by Jesus’ disciples, specifically Judas, for wasting what could have been sold to help the poor in a significant way. And that’s not a bad point. A year’s wages really could have done an amazing amount of good in that town. But Jesus isn’t bothered by that, and instead rebukes his disciples and memorializes her deed for all time.
It’s also noteworthy that this was the second time Jesus had defended Mary. He defended her when her sister accused her of laziness, saying that Mary had instead chosen the one “necessary” thing. Now he was defending her against accusations of reckless wastefulness. In both cases, Jesus not only cuts off the accuser, but he speaks glowingly of what Mary had chosen to do. When Jesus stands up so strongly for someone, and does it repeatedly, we should take a long look at the quality of that person’s life.
I suppose the message from Mary’s life is pretty simple. Jesus isn’t looking mainly for service or charity, but for adoration. And he’s not looking for an adoration that skimps and takes shortcuts. Excessive, wasteful, extreme, awkward adoration was the exclamation point that was to be on the gospel message wherever it went. Obviously, service and charity are intended to accompany the gospel, but they’re not the main thing. Mary had something figured out. Maybe we could take her example and be a little more wasteful.