Mark 14: Thank Who?

Gratitude is good for you. That’s what they say.

thankyouJohn Tierney wrote this in a 2011 Thanksgiving piece for the NY Times:

Cultivating an “attitude of gratitude” has been linked to better health, sounder sleep, less anxiety and depression, higher long-term satisfaction with life and kinder behavior toward others, including romantic partners.

The research on gratitude is causing it to be widely recommended, not just by moms to grumpy kids, but by scientists to a cranky nation. “Gratitude promoted good karma,” according to one researcher. Gratitude will make us nicer people–maybe it will even bring in world peace.

There’s just one little problem. Gratitude isn’t actually about me.

Self-preoccupation

We started the week talking about our tendency to focus on the sacrifices we make for others. We moms pour out our lives for our families from the first runny nose we wipe in the morning until the last sleepless child who finally gives it up at night. We women pour out our lives heroically at work and school and home, taking on chores and burdens and deadlines that others ask us to do. Not to mention the ones no body asks of us. Our sacrifices preoccupy us.

But that’s only one small part of our self-preoccupation. We also endlessly think about our needs. Not to mention our failures. Our successes. Our suffering. Our worries. Our reputation. Our hopes. Our future. Our past. Just like the other players in Mark 14 — the Pharisees, Judas, the disciples, the witnesses, and the Sanhedrin — whatever it is we’re doing, we’re thinking about ourselves.

Where can we find freedom from this stranglehold? This obsessive self-absorption?

Eyes for Him

Into our lives walks a woman. She slips quietly through the door, no “excuse me” or furtive, self-conscious looks. The room is noisy, full of eating and talking and the kind of joking that happens at parties. Some people see her. But she doesn’t see them. She’s not looking at them.

She stops beside the guest of honor. Takes something from her pocket. There’s a slight pop. She’s pouring. What is that in her hand? She drops to her knees. What’s she doing with her hair? What’s that…oh my, that aroma. It’s intoxicating! It’s overwhelming! Conversation stops dead. But she’s still not looking at us. She’s locked in the gaze…of Jesus.

What Mary knew

John identifies the woman as Mary, Lazarus’s sister (John 12:3). She has history with Jesus. He was often in her home. He’d treated her like a disciple, not just a woman. He’d taught her truth about God, about himself. He’s the one she and Martha can turn to for help. She knows Jesus loves her — it’s obvious to her and to everyone else (John 11:3).

Then came the day of her deepest need. She and Martha called for him. He didn’t come. Not that day or the next. Or the one after that. When he did come, he called for Mary. She came to him, weeping, if you had been here…She knew he loved her. But why hadn’t he come? A shadow of doubt threatened to creep in.

Then he spoke, “Lazarus, come out!” As her dead brother broke free of death, Mary’s heart broke free, too.  All doubt was swept away by utter assurance. The deepest need of her life at this point had been met by his love. She thought her heart would burst. How could she possibly express her response?

Oh, yes, the perfume. Yes!

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What made Mary see Jesus and forget herself? The greatness of his love for her. The miracle was that she saw this clearly before she saw him hanging on the cross for her.

What will make us see Jesus and forget ourselves? The greatness of his love for us. The miracle is that we see this clearly through the power of the Holy Spirit who opens our eyes to see his cross and our hearts to receive his love.

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