What a Thankyou Gift of Devotion Looks Like

April 7, 2019

Summary

Sometimes sharing your ‘thanks’ with someone is easy.  If a stranger holds the door for you, you smile and say, “Tusen takk!”  Or, if you receive a gift for your birthday or Christmas you say, “Thanks a lot!” and then write the giver a thank you note, or email.

With other things, it is a bit more involved.  Like, if someone gives you a job, you tell them, “I am so grateful” and then you work your hardest for them, doing the best job you can.  Or, if a friend gives you a used car, when yours breaks down and you have no money or means to replace it, but need it to get to work.  What do you do?  You keep it in the best condition you can, use it to help a neighbor in need to go get groceries in Sweden, and simply be a giver, in kind, as well.

Nations and their people can even show thanks to one another.  How many of you have ever noticed the statue of Winston Churchill down at Solli Plass?  It’s a copy of the statue that stands across from Westminster Abbey in London.  Why do you think Churchill’s statue stands here in Oslo?  How about Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s statue down by Akershus Festning looking out over the harbor?

Both statues are present in Oslo, because they are a way for the Norwegian people to say, “Thank you” to the United Kingdom and the United States for their support of Norway during World War Two, and these two men for their part in ending the Nazi occupation of Norway.

There is another statue, below Roosevelt’s, of a figure standing looking towards the city.  It is a statue that for me is especially poignant.  The figure is that of the American, George Marshall.  Marshall was the general whom led the U.S. Army during the war, and helped to bring about the Allies eventual victory, but his strategy is not why he is remembered. No, it’s his leadership in creating the plan that helped to rebuild much of the world once the fighting was done.  The statue is Norway’s way of showing its gratitude for all of the money and support it received to rebuild from the Marshall Plan.  Yep, the plan named for George Marshall.

Speaking of naming, how many schools, bridges, airports and even cities are named after someone important, as a way of acknowledging their actions or leadership? I’ve met people whose parents named them after someone for whom they wanted to show thanks or respect.

But, have you ever been so thankful, that you just have not even known how to say, “Thank you”?  Has someone ever done something so big that there is just not any rational or reasonable way to repay them?

I know a man, who stopped along an icy highway in the U.S. to help a family whose car had just spun off of the highway and rolled down into a ditch.  He ran down to the car, helped get the people out, saving a young boy from most certainly getting hit by another car spinning off of the highway.  That car, instead hit, drove over my friend, wreaking havoc upon his body, and almost killing him in the midst of his act of rescue.

The boy whom he saved could never repay my friend for saving his life.  What he could do was say, “Thank you!” and simply visit him and then go about living the life of a boy.  My friend, said that that was the best outcome he could imagine, that little boy simply living his life and doing things little boys do.

Sometimes the question is simply, “How do I truly show someone my gratitude, when what they have done is beyond the realm of a “Thank you card?”

In today’s gospel text John shows one example of such a, “thank you.” We usually think of this act as Jesus’ anointing, but that was not the intent of Lazarus’ grateful sister.

This event took place in Bethany, at the home of Lazarus, Martha and their sister Mary.  Jesus and his disciples had been invited to dinner. I have always thought they were invited as a way for the siblings to try and say, “thank you” for Jesus calling Lazarus out of death, from the tomb to life.  In other words it was a meal of thanksgiving.

Each sibling showed their gratefulness in a different way.  Lazarus sat and talked, and shared stories I am sure.  Martha shared her love and showed her thankfulness through her food, serving the men their meal that evening.

Mary, as we have seen in the other stories of her in the gospels, well, Mary lived from the center of her emotions.  Mary’s heart guided her to give Jesus her all in response to his gift of life.

Mary wanted to show her gratitude to Jesus by sharing with him her most precious belongings, her perfume made of nard and her very self, meaning her reputation.  Both were all-or-nothing gifts.  Let me explain.

What’s striking about the nard, is that this most expensive of perfumes kept in an opaque jar of alabaster, was probably the entirety of Mary’s worldly possessions.  The jar might have been saved to be Mary’s dowry, or bride price, what was needed to secure her future, but it needed to remain unopened.  In other words, if Mary used it, she would not have the dowry needed to get married.  Nor would she and her siblings have the money to replace it once opened and poured out.

Like many object of immense value, a jar of nard was to be treasured, but not used.  It was the wealth that assured Mary’s future.  Yet that evening, Mary broke open and poured out her future in thanksgiving and devotion to Jesus.

The other gift of thanksgiving she gave Jesus was her total self in opening her reputation as a righteous woman up to ridicule and scorn.

You see a woman’s hair was her piety, and her pride.  One source puts it like this:

“Respectable Jewish women never let down their hair in public. In fact, it was considered a mark of a woman of loose morals (Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans], p. 577). But Mary was so caught up with her devotion to Christ that she didn’t stop to consider what others might think about her. Like [King] David dancing before the Lord wearing only an ephod (2 Sam. 6:14-23), Mary cast public opinion to the wind, let her hair down, and wiped Jesus’ feet…Mary’s action made the apostles uncomfortable, but Jesus sided with Mary.”

We can thus see that Mary, in pure joy for her brother’s life, felt that the only way to express her devotion to Jesus, was to give him her all.  Mary poured her future upon Jesus feet and then like a servant washed them clean with her true self, thus giving us the example of the total disciple, filled with faith, casting herself fully onto Jesus.  There was no turning back.

Yes, a lot more happens in this story too, Jesus declaring that Mary has anointed him for his death,  Judas accusing her of wastefulness, with the ulterior motive of theft.  Yet, too often we concentrate upon those other aspects and lose the great example we have in Mary, of a devoted disciple, and faithful friend of Jesus.

As fellow disciples, walking the road of discipleship almost two-thousand years later, what can we learn from Mary and her example?  How can we give our all, both our present and our future to the Lord?  Can we look beyond what the world thinks of us?  Can we ‘let our hair’ down, not worrying of our reputation in public? How do we show our devotion to the Lord?  Can we follow Mary’s example of discipleship?

These are important questions, and hard questions, but necessary ones. How do we respond to Jesus’ gift of life?  Does the world know we’re thankful?

We need to live each day struggling with these questions.  Thankfully we know where to go for the answers, ask Jesus.  He’ll invite you to sit at his feet, like he did Mary, and he’ll show you the way.

Amen.

Bible References

  • Psalm 126 - 126
  • John 12:1 - 8

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