The last week of Jesus’ life is so filled with important events that it is often called “The Passion Week.” It highlights major characters like Pontius Pilate, Judas, and Peter. But it also includes an act of service recorded in three of the four gospel accounts. Matthew and Mark do not even mention the servant by name. John informs us that it is Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus.
Have you ever wished that you lived during the time of Jesus? That you could hear Him preach, see Him work a miracle, or watch Him interact with people? We are far removed from the time that Jesus walked the earth. But we can still serve Him just the same. As His disciples, we can do things for Him just like Mary did.
These things can be summed up in two words: simple service. How can we render such simple service to the Savior?
Don’t settle for second best. Mary anointed Jesus with an “alabaster vial of very costly perfume of pure nard” (Mark 14:3). “Spikenard” was a very expensive ointment taken from a plant in India. The disciples put a value of 300 denarii on this perfume, the equivalent of a year’s wages. When Mary served Jesus, she didn’t look through her things and find something that she planned to give away anyway. She had the same attitude of King David who said, “I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God which cost me nothing” (2 Sam. 24:24). Mary was the one Jesus had earlier commended for “choosing the better part” (Luke 10:42). The better part is giving your best.
The Lord deserves your best in every area of service. When you come to Bible class unprepared, will you be able to contribute anything or get everything out of the lesson that you need? When you miss services for a game or school or work, who is getting your best? Your team, your coach, your employer? You can’t expect to hear “well done, good and faithful servant” when you’ve not served your best.
Don’t worry about what other people think. The disciples who witnessed Mary’s act of service saw pouring the ointment on Jesus’ head as a huge waste. “ For this perfume might have been sold... and the money given to the poor” (Mark 14:5). Mary was not deterred. It was not the disciples’ approval she was seeking. Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you bother her? She has done a good deed to Me” (Mark 14:6). That’s what the Lord thought about it. That was what mattered to Mary.
Sometimes we choose our behavior based on what others will think of us. But you don’t always know why people are thinking a certain way. Judas led the charge against Mary “not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it” (John 12:6). Sometimes, people are critical out of jealousy, envy, or some other motive. We are to present ourselves “approved to God” (2 Tim. 2:15). Jesus is the One who will judge us. His approval of our service is the only one that matters.
Don’t neglect what only you can do. Mary made her mark. Jesus continued His praise for her by predicting, “Wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her” (Mark 14:9). The apostles would be taking the gospel into all the world. When they did, they would also be taking this example of simple service. Mary didn’t do this to make a name for herself. Remember, in Matthew and Mark’s accounts, she is not called by name. But in doing a small, kindly deed, she made a big difference.
Man-made memorials and monuments fade with time. But the memory of a good deed will last forever. It’s the one thing you can take with you when you die (Rev. 14:13). Don’t forget Jesus’ words of commendation. “She has done what she could” (Mark 14:8). The only thing you are accountable for is what you can do. It may be that just a cup of cold water is all that you can give right now (Matt. 10:42). But the Lord will take note. Heaven is reserved for those who served.
Mary is mentioned three times in the gospels; each time, she is at Jesus’s feet. First, when she is listening to Him teach (Luke 10:39): Second, when she fell at His feet at Lazarus’ tomb (John 11:32). And here, where she anoints Him for His burial. In every case, it was her pleasure to serve Him who did not come to be served. Let us go and do likewise.