Mary's act of annointing Jesus with expensive perfume, an act which filled the house with fragrance, illustrates three characteristics of love.
(B) Love is perceptive
Mary saw that Jesus was troubled. He was approaching the end of his ministry and that was difficult in itself. The last lap of a race is rarely the easiest. I did not find the last year of my thirty six years as a teacher the most rewarding. There is a sense of anticlimax. It is hard to finish well. Jesus knew that one of his disciples had yet to betray him, another would deny him and all would forsake him and flee. His life would not end in honour but dishonour. The greatest teacher that has ever lived would not be crowned in honour but with thorns. So Jesus is burdened and Mary knows it. She tries to lift his spirits and help him face the ordeal ahead by showing how much she loved him. Mary anticipates his burial and does for him in life what she could not do for him in death.
It is important to show love whilst we can. I visit an old lady called Dorothy. Her father died in the Great War when she was a little girl. Her mother was left a widow with three daughters to bring up. They were desperately poor. The mother took in washing to support her girls. They were virtually abandoned by their father's family. In Dorothy's words, "They didn't want to know us". I expect they were poor too. A day came when Dorothy and her sisters were taken to see their paternal grandfather. He came downstairs from his bedroom with his head all bound up. He sat in his old chair and took Dorothy onto his lap. He stroked her hair and said, "We should have done more for you." He gave her half a crown. Within a week he was dead. He missed his opportunity.
I was helped in the last weeks of my career by a thoughtful act of kindness from a colleague. He arranged a little tea party in a very nice hotel. Three ladies of whom I am fond were invited to take tea with us. It was delightful to sit in a fine conservatory with its spreading vine growing on the walls, to eat scones, jam and cream and reminisce. Two of the ladies presented me with a gift to mark my retirement - a fine painting of an owl. They thought it was entirely appropriate that the owl looked cross! My colleague did not miss his opportunity - like Mary he did what he could whilst he could.
The great British Antarctic explorer, Ernest Shackleton, loved the men who accompanied him upon his expeditions. His love made him perceptive. He noticed when a member of his party was down and had the happy knack of taking them aside and talking to them in a warm and intimate way. Shackleton was able to make a man believe that he was special, valued and important. In this way he maintained morale in the most difficult of circumstances.
Love makes us perceptive of the needs of others. Without it we are unable to address those needs. The Bible tells us to love our neighbour as ourselves. We have to put ourselves in our neighbours place and think, now what would help me if I was in his predicament. It is a comfort to remember that God loves us and knows our deepest needs.
(C) Love is uninhibited
Mary poured the scented oil over Jesus head and feet. She then wiped his feet with her long hair. This is an uninhibited act of great tenderness. I have given this address at several ladies meetings. Some of the ladies have long hair. I have yet to come across a woman who has expressed her love to her husband by drying his feet with her hair. Mary did not care what others thought. The presence of those who would be unsypathetic to her action did not stop her from expressing how she felt for Jesus - pouring out her love as she poured out the perfume.
I watched one Christmas a TV programme on the carol, 'Silent Night'. It was the best thing I watched on TV that Christmas. At the end of the programme there was a excerpt from a very old film of a plump black woman singing, 'Jesus my Saviour is born'. The tears were streaming down her cheeks such was her love for Jesus and I was glad. Judas wasn't glad that Mary showed Jesus love. I think our reaction to a person showing wholehearted devotion to Jesus is a good test of our relationship with the Master.
Tenderness is reassuring and an immense comfort. I can remember putting my father to bed in his weakness and him saying, "John, give me a kiss". I wish I had kissed him more. I can recall a day, years ago, when I had a funeral to conduct. It was the funeral of a very well known farmer and local politician so I knew that a large number of people would be present. In the morning I had to go into school to teach. It was getting near to the end of term and I was tired. Lessons did not go very well that morning. I just had to register my form in the afternoon before leaving for the funeral service. I walked up the stairs behind one of my girls. She turned round and realised that I was stressed. She waited and as I came along side slipped her arm through mine. We walked down the corridor to my form room. It was a little unhibited act of tenderness and it made me feel better. It was a comfort. I drove off for the funeral in a much happier frame of mind.
Jesus said that what Mary did for him was a beautiful thing. He did not say that of many actions. Uninhibited tenderness is lovely. I took Jessie to see her husband in hospital. She is in her late seventies and he in his early eighties. They kissed. Jessie straightened her husbands clothes, brushed his hair. She found some moist tissue to wipe his lips. She had bought his favourite fruit, a peach, which she proceded to peel, cut up and feed him, bit by bit. Jessie was so solicitous of Henry's welfare and he responded with the utmost good humour and affection. Their love for each other was as vibrant as the day they married. It was a beautiful thing and I was charmed.
(D) Love is wasteful
The perfume that Mary poured over Jesus was worth a year's wages for a manual worker, between £15,000 and £20,000. All that money for a few minutes of heady fragrance. What a waste. That is what Judas and some other of the disciples thought. Judas was denied his 10% and the poor were denied their bread. But love is wasteful.
My brother is a Grace Baptist Minister in an inner city church so he isn't rich. I was suprised at the large number of guests at his daughter's wedding. The reception cost him more than he could afford. He told me that it was what his daughter wanted. Love is lavish. He was also wearing a morning suit. I think that is what it is called! My experience of any kind of suit is limited. I said to him as brothers do, "What on earth are you wearing that for." He replied, "Angela, wanted it." (She must take after her mother.) My brother's love for Angela, his daughter, was wasteful to the extent of hiring a suit he didn't want to wear.
All kinds of true love are wasteful. My friend Phyllis said as I drove her to church, "Poor old Ted Whiting died, yesterday." Ted was odd job man in his village of Horringer, near Bury St. Edmunds in Suffolk. Phyllis continued, "He'll be missed". She then told me of a little incident involving Ted which took place in the summer. She had a wasp's nest in her roof, so, of course, she sent for Ted. He actually finished poisoning the wasps whilst Phyllis was away on holiday. When Phyllis got back from holiday she kept looking out for Ted's ancient white van. She was out of her house in a flash when she spotted it. She thrust an envelope into his hand saying, "There's a little something for your time, Ted." He started to splutter and protest but my friend is a determined woman, "You take it, Ted, you can't work for nothing". Next day there was an envelope pushed through Phyllis' letter box. Inside was the money she had paid Ted with a brief note thanking her for it but with these concluding words, 'I shan't have it'. If you lived in Suffolk you would appreciate this little interplay. Ted loved his neighbour and love does not count the cost. He wanted to help his neighbour without payment. He was happy to waste his time for love of his neighbour. Ted was like the Good Samaritan. The Good Samaritan didn't count the cost as he tended the wounds of the man who fell foul of thieves, pouring in the oil and wine of his compassion, putting him upon his own donkey and taking him to the safety of the inn. Phyllis said that Horringer Church was full for Ted's funeral.
Only the best will do for Jesus. We have some wonderful flower arrangements at our chapel because the ladies gifted in this art form believe that only the best will do for Jesus. Our teas on special occasions are wonderful not only because Suffolk ladies know how to cook but because they want to do the best they can for Jesus. When I prepare my little talks for our weekly prayer meeting I know that there will only be a few in attendance. I do my best. I never count the cost. Only the best will do for Jesus.
Jesus said of Mary's extravagant gift, "She has done what she could". She had just given him £20,000 but she had made only a small contribution to the great work of salvation that Jesus was about to accomplish. However she had made a contribution. It was a tribute well worth having! I picked up an old 1959 diary of my mother's this week. I turned the pages. She was a Baptist Minister's wife. These are just the few words she wrote for a week in August: