[Originally appeared at xanga.com/godsbooklover on March 26, 2007. I was reminded of it because next week’s theme at Lent2008 is “serving”.]
The serving girl silently refills cups of wine, platters of bread and meat. There is talking and laughing. Jesus joins in at times, but mostly He listens. Sometimes He seems to retreat inside Himself. But when the girl offers to refill His cup, He turns and smiles at her as He passes her the vessel. His eyes are kind, clear, wise. He looks His appreciation– not for her appearance, she is sure, but for herself. “Thank you,” He says quietly, and she feels blessed, baptized by that look, those words. Oh, if only she could express the feelings He awakens in her. This, she thinks, is what worship feels like. But it’s more than I feel in the Temple. And what do I do with what I feel?
The meal continues. She works, but is always aware of Jesus at the table. So she is naturally the first to notice when Mary slips in, carrying a small alabaster box. Mary kneels behind Jesus, opens the box, scoops up something in her hand and pours it on his head. The thick oil coats His hair, beginning to run down the length of it on both sides of His head. Jesus sits very still, His face calm, unsurprised, inscrutable.
The servant notes that the room has grown quiet. In the absence of sound, the strong scent of the ointment, heavy, cloying, fills the room. Gradually now, after the stunned silence, a murmur is growing, along with exchanges of glances around the table.
Unperturbed, perhaps oblivious to them all, Mary has moved away from Jesus’ head, as if it were too intimate a place to stay. She scoops more ointment and lavishes it on His feet, smoothing it over the tops and the soles, stroking His feet as if they were tender infants or injured birds. So gently, so lovingly she touches Him. The serving girl is with her in spirit, sharing this act of worship. Yes, she thinks, this is what I longed to do. It feels so absolutely right.
Then she catches a clear word amidst the muttering. “What is Mary doing? Doesn’t she know what that is? Spikenard is far too valuable to waste this way, as a…gesture. She could have sold it. And given the money to…well…to the poor, for instance. Surely that would have pleased the Master more.”
Mary is wiping the Master’s feet now, using her hair and the hem of her gown. She still seems unaware of anything else. But Jesus looks around at the gathered guests. His face is still serene, and perhaps a little…sad. “Don’t trouble her or criticize. This was a beautiful act. As for the poor, you will always have them with you, and have many chances to serve them. But you won’t have Me with you much longer. This was done to prepare for My burial.”
Hurriedly, the servant leaves the room. She needs to refill her wine jar anyway, but mostly she wants to hide the sudden tears. Where is He going? Why does Jesus look so sad, and talk of burial? Oh, she couldn’t bear the thought, it hurt her heart and robbed her breath. The Master…to die? No. Not Him. It seemed a sacrilege to think of that dear, holy face and form–lifeless. Surely He didn’t mean literally what He said.
She put down her jar on a table and went out weeping, to pray under the willow trees, away from eyes that wouldn’t understand. “O Lord God, spare Him! Have mercy. Don’t take Him away from us. I know I’m just a servant, with no right to speak. I don’t know Your ways. But He is Yours, I do know that. For His sake, not for mine, please hear my prayer.” The evening breeze brushed her face, drying the tears. And in some way she couldn’t comprehend she felt…comforted. She couldn’t know that God, who knew her through and through, would answer not for His sake, but for her own. The answer would be not the one she wanted, but the one she needed more than earthly life itself.
Sighing, she rose and went back in to serve once more.
Thank You , dear Lord, for Your patience with us in the midst of growing adversity. We cast ourselves on You and confess our confusion. You don’t always aid our understanding, but You comfort and give strength so we can rise to serve once more.