Updated: Apr 3
I’m learning what it means to grieve.
And it’s been the hardest thing I’ve had to do. Mostly because it involves sitting, waiting, so much reflecting, and lots of weeping. But there’s something about grieving that invites healing. It welcomes and ushers in a new hope and the presence of Jesus when words aren’t enough. This passage reminds me of the same kind of grieving that takes time, seems wasteful, but precedes hope.
When we read this text, we see Passover is upon Jesus and his disciples, just two days away, and the chief priests are already plotting his trial and death. When Jesus is at the home of Simon the Leper, Mary of Bethany, comes to visit him with her expensive alabaster jar of perfume to break it and pour it on Jesus’ head. In the other Gospels, this story depicts Mary even weeping and cleaning his feet with her tears.
But this expensive jar of perfume is essentially all Mary has with her to honor Jesus. And because of its high value, this jar was thought to be a family heirloom, a prized possession not easily replaceable. She prepares him for burial in this intimate way by pouring the perfume on his head, and still others find it wasteful and foolish. And while the argument arises that it would’ve been better to sell it to serve the poor, Jesus steps in to advocate for Mary. He defends her honorable gesture.
What seems too extravagant to those in the room, is seen as beautiful to Jesus. I wonder in that moment, if Jesus felt seen, and understood by Mary. I wonder if her moment of grief and expense is all she had left to give to the One who would soon defeat death.
When I think of this passage, I think of previous sermons about it, usually ending with the tagline: “What’s your alabaster jar?” or something cheesy like that. SPOILER ALERT: I won’t be talking about the jar, at least not in this blog post.
I’m talking about this moment. Right here, with Jesus and this woman. This deep encounter with the living Jesus that’s compared to the ministry he does. How often do we as missionaries wrestle with the tension of being Christ followers versus Christ workers? Do we, as missionaries, confuse the mission with the original Sender?
How often do we as missionaries wrestle with the tension of being Christ followers versus Christ workers? Do we, as missionaries, confuse the mission with the original Sender?
Just 5 months ago, I had to wrestle with those same questions myself when I decided to end my time in campus ministry and wait on Jesus for rest and new hope. I had to grieve the moments where I put my mission above my God and the cost left me forgetting Jesus right in front of me.
I spent more time worrying if my talks were captivating enough, or if my planting strategies were effective, instead of lingering in His presence. The mission always seemed worth losing sleep, skipping a few lunch meals, but never taking care of my physical and mental state. My sin of workaholism had crept its way into my ministry and I didn’t even realize it. God was calling me to rest, and as a do-er, that was hard.
I had to, and still have to, understand that my works don’t glorify God, my admiration of Him does. And while the popular expectation in this passage is to keep up the ministry work, Mary reminds me to slow down, take time, and honor Jesus as King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Hosanna in the highest as He once again takes on my sin, and prepares to defeat death.
REFLECTION QUESTIONS: 1. As busy missionaries, we can get caught up in doing the right “Christian things” without ever pondering or spending time with Jesus Christ himself. Does loving, glorifying, and honoring Jesus still look like ministry to us? Could sitting with Jesus , just to be with him, seem like a waste?
2. In my personal reflection, my workaholic nature kept me from giving Jesus my full attention. What barriers keep you from simply being with Jesus?
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