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Unforgettable Acts of Love

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Matthew 26:6–13; Mark 14:3–9; John 11:55–57; 12:1–8

Most things we might be remembered for in this world will probably fade quickly from the memory of society and eventually even from the memories of family members. But we can be sure that our love for Christ will be forever remembered and honored by the Lord.


Today on our Wisdom Journey, Jesus and His disciples have left Jericho. The town is surely buzzing over the recent conversion of Zacchaeus. What happens next is an expression of love so magnificent that 2000 years later we are still amazed by it.

Matthew, Mark, and John all record this event. I want to follow the account given to us in John’s Gospel, in chapter 12, beginning at verse 1:

Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table.

This is a family of three siblings: Martha, Mary, and their brother, Lazarus. Nothing in Scripture mentions any spouses or even parents. These three are more than likely single adults—and all three are very close to Jesus. Matthew and Mark tell us the meal takes place in the home of a man known as “Simon the Leper.”[1]

Martha is busy serving, and Lazarus is at the table with Jesus. Mary now appears on the scene in verse 3:

Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair.

This act is rooted in love and worship. It was not uncommon in these days for devotees to pour perfume on idols and clean them with their hair as an act of deep humility and devotion. But there is more here in Mary’s sacrificial gift. First, this is a subtle recognition of Christ’s coming death and burial. She is effectively anointing Him as one anointed a body for burial. You could say she is giving Him flowers while He is alive rather than putting them on His grave.

Second, this is symbolic of Christ’s royalty. The typical anointing with this kind of extravagance was reserved for the anointing of a new king. When Mary anoints Jesus, she is acknowledging Him as King. 

Third, this is an example of uninhibited generosity. In verse 3 John calls the ointment “pure,” which means undiluted. This particular ointment was made from an herb that grew in the mountains of India; at great cost it was manufactured and then imported in little white, alabaster bottles.

According to verse 5, this perfume was worth “three hundred denarii,” which was about an entire year’s salary for the average working person. You could call this little bottle liquid gold.

At this point the scene is interrupted by Judas Iscariot. He has something to say about this. In fact, these are his first recorded words in Scripture—verse 5: “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?”

Oh, he cares about poor people, does he? There is no evidence Judas ever gave to the poor. His complaint is a smoke screen to cover his own selfish hypocrisy. John makes that clear in verse 6:

He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.

Judas was a “thief,” or kleptēs in the Greek language. This gives us our word kleptomaniac. He is just upset he cannot get his hands on some extra money.

Jesus quickly comes to Mary’s defense:

“Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.” (verses 7-8)

Mark 14:6 adds that Jesus also said, “She has done a beautiful thing to me.”

This makes me wonder what beautiful thing I have done for the Lord. What is it God has given me to give away? Time? Talent? Interest in others? What alabaster vase am I willing to break open in honor of Christ? Beloved, who needs what you and I can give them today?

I remember a wonderful story, written many years ago. It was about a fifth-grade teacher named Mrs. Thompson. She was a terrific teacher, but one of her students, Teddy Stoddard, seemed uninterested in school. His appearance was untidy, and he was often unpleasant.   

She checked his earlier grades and read comments from former teachers. His first-grade teacher had written, “Teddy is a bright child with a ready laugh. He does his work neatly and has good manners . . . he is a joy to be around.”

His second-grade teacher wrote, “Teddy is an excellent student, well-liked by his classmates, but he is troubled because his mother has a terminal illness.”

His third-grade teacher wrote, “His mother’s death has been hard on him. He tries to do his best but his father doesn’t show much interest.”

Then his fourth-grade teacher wrote, “Teddy is withdrawn and doesn’t show much interest in school. He doesn’t have many friends and sometimes sleeps in class.”

Mrs. Thompson now knew the source of his appearance and lack of interest.

When her students brought her gifts before the Christmas break, Teddy handed her a gift wrapped in a brown grocery bag. When she opened it, out fell a rhinestone bracelet with some of the stones missing, and a partially used bottle of inexpensive perfume.

Some of the children laughed, but Mrs. Thomson immediately put on the bracelet, exclaiming how pretty it was, and she put some of the perfume on her wrist.

At the end of the day, Teddy lingered behind long enough to say, “Mrs. Thompson, today you smelled just like my mother used to smell.”

When Teddy left, Mrs. Thompson sat at her desk and wept. And that same day, she changed; she quit teaching reading, and writing, and arithmetic. Instead, she began to teach children.

And she paid particular attention to Teddy Stoddard. By the end of that school year, Teddy showed dramatic improvement. The next year she received a note from Teddy, telling her she was the best teacher he had ever had.

Six years passed, and she got another note from Teddy. He told her he had finished high school and was heading off to college. Four more years passed, and another note came. Teddy was graduating from college with highest honors. He added that she was still his best and favorite teacher ever.

Another four years passed, and Teddy wrote again, explaining that he had decided to go on to medical school. He wrote that she was still his favorite teacher. He signed his letter, “Theodore Stoddard, M.D.”

Another letter arrived soon after that. Teddy was getting married. His father had died a couple years earlier, and he was wondering if Mrs. Thompson might sit in the place usually reserved for the mother of the groom.

And so, Mrs. Thompson went to the wedding and sat where Teddy’s mother would have sat.[2] She deserved to sit there, because years earlier, she had broken her vase and poured it out on a little boy. He never forgot her gift of love.

Matthew’s account of Mary’s act adds this statement by Jesus in chapter 26, verse 13: 

“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.”

Sacrificial gifts of love are not forgotten. It is as if we can still smell the fragrance of Mary’s sacrifice. I love the expression back in John 12:3: “The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.”

There were other gifts that made this one possible. Simon gave the gift of hospitality; Martha gave the gift of an evening meal; Lazarus gave the gift of friendship. And now Mary gives her sacrificial gift of worship.

And remember this: when you worship the Lord—when you are willing to pour out the contents of your life for the Lord—you are going to be a fragrant blessing to someone. And more than likely, they are never going to forget what you have done.

[1] Matthew 26:6; Mark 14:3.

[2] Elizabeth Silance Ballard, “The Teacher,” Home Life magazine, March 1976.

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