While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” Mark 14:3-9 (NIV).
The first thing that captures ones attention in this text is the contrast between Mary and “some of those present.” A contrast between the proud and the broken – between those who had sneers and the woman who had tears.
Comparing “some of those present” with Mary, we realize that brokenness is far more than a feeling or an emotion. It’s a choice that we make. It’s an act of the will. It’s a matter of seeing things God’s way and not our way. It’s responding in obedience to God’s Spirit. And it’s a dismantling of our glory so that God gets all the glory (Note how 1 Corinthians 11:15 teaches that a woman’s hair is her glory so Mary used her glory to wipe the feet of Jesus!).
John the Baptist gives us an excellent sense of what it means to be broken when he says that “He must become greater; I must become less” John 3:30. God teaches us that the way up is to go down. We need to fall at Jesus’ feet like Mary did. We must honour Christ no matter what the cost. For there’s no openness to God without brokenness.
In the account of Mary anointing Jesus with perfume, it becomes obvious that Mary’s demonstration of brokenness is rejected by the establishment. It’s a startling reality. The disciples were so embarrassed by the woman’s actions that they wanted to throw her out. This is especially noticeable in Matthew’s account. The disciples were indignant and exclaimed, “Why this waste?” Matthew 26:8. Like countless pastors, elders, and deacons in the church today, the disciples got nervous when faced with a raw and uninhibited love for God. In short they were saying, “Somebody stop this woman!”
Brokenness should never be discouraged. Jesus intervened and basically said, “This isn’t waste, this is worship. Finally somebody is doing it right. Don’t you dare stop her!” Isn’t that something? The disciples were saying, “No!” But Jesus was saying, “Yes!” The disciples were shouting, “Stop!” But Jesus was saying, “Go!”
Let’s be honest. The church is uneasy with demonstrations of brokenness. We tell people, “We don’t do that here! It’s out of order carrying on like that!” For we feel uncomfortable with the Mary’s who dismantle their pride and ego in front of everybody. We feel unsettled around people with a lifestyle of transparent honesty and liberty in Christ. We feel disturbed by people who have dropped the walls of pretense and sanctimony. And we struggle to cope with people who demonstrate a public show of private passion for the Lord. Yes, when all is said and done we’re uncomfortable with demonstrations of brokenness and as a result we often fail to attain the intimacy with Jesus that Mary obtained.
Yet brokenness brings blessing. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” Psalm 51:17.
So how do we develop the kind of brokenness that Mary displayed?
Firstly, we should view worship as more important than work. Simon was so busy entertaining Jesus that he failed to show the Lord the esteem He deserved. As the host it was Simon’s responsibility to make sure that his servants washed the feet of the dinner guests as they came into the house. But this wasn’t done. It’s almost as if Simon wanted Jesus there but didn’t want to show Him the respect and honour that was His due. But Mary rectified the situation. She honoured Jesus by taking her hair, her “glory,” and using it to clean His feet. What a picture of humble worship. The first step to brokenness is to dismantle our “glory” in a manner whereby we worship Jesus with the respect and honour He deserves.
Secondly, we should view love as more important than looks. As I read between the lines it seems to me that Mary got to the point where her love for Jesus made her say, “I don’t care who sees me do this.” Her love for Jesus broke the shell of her self esteem. It should be the same with us. Brokenness requires an abandonment to Jesus in which we openly and boldly demonstrate our love for Him to the whole world.
Thirdly, we should view trust as more important than treasures. Mary got to the point where it was more important for her to put her faith in Jesus than to hang onto her precious possessions. She became a box breaker and in so doing she symbolized how trust was more important than treasures. Yes, Mary became a lover of Him more than a lover of things. Similarly, we must learn that brokenness requires a reorientation of our priorities. Faith in Christ must supercede all worldly riches. For true brokenness only develops when we break our alabaster box of personal treasures and lay them at the feet of Jesus.