She Did What She Could
Bethany is an interesting place that is mentioned in the Bible. It is only two miles from Jerusalem, located on the southeast side of the Mount of Olives. Most of Jesus’ ministry took place in northern Israel, but He often stopped in Bethany during His trips to Jerusalem for holy feasts. What was in Bethany that would draw Jesus there? Jesus’ friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus lived there. Their house was a place where Jesus could rest, have a home-cooked meal, be surrounded by people who loved and cared for Him, and be refreshed.
One of Jesus’ last visits to Bethany occurred just a few days before His death. At that time, His heart must have been burdened as the shadow of the Cross loomed larger. However, during His visit, something very special happened. We read, “As he sat at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard very precious; and she brake the box, and poured it on his head” (Mark 14:3). We know from the account in John 12 that the woman who anointed Jesus was Lazarus’ sister, Mary.
Some of the other people in the house were upset by what Mary did, but Jesus told them, “Let her alone; why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a good work on me. ...She hath done what she could: she is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying” (Mark 14:6,8). The words “She hath done what she could” caught my attention in this passage. Jesus didn’t say Mary was the best disciple or that she was perfect; He simply said that she had done what she could, and He was pleased with that. It was a reminder that God does not expect us to be perfect, but He is pleased when we simply do what we can for Him.
What can we do for Jesus? It might be as simple as giving an encouraging word, sharing our testimony, making a meal for someone, or helping to fix a broken appliance. It’s the moments when we see a need and something in our spirit says, “I could help there.” We may not be an expert or even the most qualified person for the job, but our best effort is all the Lord is looking for. Mary’s example gives us several principles to keep in mind as we endeavor to do that.
Mary anointed Jesus with spikenard, an extremely expensive ointment. The plant from which spikenard was derived grew in the Himalayan Mountains of northern India—a long way from Bethany! It actually would have been an appropriate gift to give a king because of its high value. We read that the amount Mary used cost 300 pence. That was almost a year’s wages for a Roman soldier, so today we could imagine that would compare to $30,000 to $40,000—quite a sum! And she didn’t just shake out a few drops; she broke open her alabaster box and poured out all of it on Him. Mary loved Jesus so much that she felt He was worth the expense. When she did that, the whole house must have been permeated with the wonderful scent that she lavished on her Savior.
Our offerings to God may or may not have a dollar value, but the best gifts we can give Him are always personally costly. Making time every day to spend with Him, letting Him direct our future, and submitting our own will to His are some of the most valuable consecrations we can pour out on the Lord. Giving Him our best requires sacrifice, but when we realize how precious and wonderful Jesus is, we are more than willing to give Him everything we have. He is worth it.
Some of those in the room with Jesus and Mary asked, “Why was this waste of the ointment made?” Can we ever waste anything on Jesus? Even if we do not do something perfectly or in the most efficient manner, nothing we do out of love for Jesus is wasted. No doubt, unbelievers will think spending so much time studying God’s Word and being in His house is foolish. People can say what they will, but we have found that it is not a waste to know the Lord, to spend time with Him, and to serve Him. It is what makes life worth living! Like Mary, we must follow the convictions of our hearts and not be dissuaded by others.
Have you ever considered how often Jesus received something during His time on earth? It seems He came to give and give: healing the sick, casting out demons, forgiving sins, calming storms. He did all kinds of wonderful things for people, and never seemed to ask for anything in return. But on this occasion He said, “She hath wrought a good work on me” (Mark 14:6).
Let’s take a minute to recall Jesus’ circumstances at the time of this event: He had been ministering almost exclusively in the wilderness for some time because people were plotting to kill Him. Judas was already planning his betrayal, and in just a few more days He would be making the ultimate sacrifice for the world. His heart must have been deeply burdened, but for that blessed moment in Bethany, Jesus received refreshing for His spirit because someone who loved Him with all her heart decided He was worth her most costly treasure.
Our offerings done in love for Him will also be noticed and rejoiced over by Him. Jesus appreciates our efforts to show Him how much we love Him. When we are faithful to do or give our best, He is pleased.
Spikenard was very aromatic and it was used for special occasions—at the crowning of kings, anointing of prophets and priests, and the burial of the dead. So it was appropriate for Mary to pour it on Jesus, the King of kings, the Prophet of God, the great High Priest, and the One who would soon die for the sins of the world.
Mary gave Him a proper anointing, and it was appreciated by Jesus, but did she fully understand what this anointing signified? We do not know for sure, but she could have. One of the other times when Jesus visited Bethany, we read that her sister Martha was cumbered with serving, but Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His words (Luke 10). She had decided that when Jesus came, she would set aside her personal agenda to have time with Him. She was devoted, she loved Jesus, and she wanted to hear what He had to say and to enjoy communion with Him. During those times, did He ever reveal to her that He would die for the sins of the world? He told that to His disciples, so He may have told Mary as well. If she did not know, there must have just been a compelling desire in her heart to present this special offering to her Lord. Either way, Mary became a participant in the salvation story simply because she did what she could.
As we draw closer to God, our desires become aligned with His and He can lead us to serve in places and ways when we do not even know the full impact of our service.
If we live close to Jesus, we might be surprised what we will learn and how He will open up His Word to us. Psalm 25:14 says, “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him.” He can show us how He is working in the world and where our efforts will be most helpful for the Kingdom. As we draw closer to God, our desires become aligned with His and He can lead us to serve in places and ways when we do not even know the full impact of our service.
In Mark 14:9, Jesus said that what Mary did would always be remembered. And His words were just fulfilled again—we are rehearsing them now! Isn’t that thrilling? God is faithful. We can count on His promises and count on His Word. What He says is true, and what He says, He will do.
God has promised that our offerings to Him will also be remembered. Hebrews 6:10 says, “For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister.” God does not forget. We might fail to remember some of the times when we have helped people, but God does not forget. In fact, we might not even realize all the times we were helpful, but God sees it all and He has a reward for the faithful. Only eternity will tell all that has been done for Jesus.
Ecclesiastes 9:10 says, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.” In other words, whatever you see that you can do for the Lord, just do it! If you notice someone who could use help, offer to help. If you see a need, give it your best effort. If someone asks for assistance, do what you can. We do not need to do everything and we do not need to be perfect; all God asks is that we do what we can, and He will be pleased if we do.