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“ The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.”—Paul.
A HOMIL Y
“For in that she hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial.”—Matt. xxvi. 12.
T is a rare and difficult thing in this world to escape
misconstruction and reproach. No matter how simple an action may be, how obvious its intention,
or how pure the motive in which it originates, we may count ourselves happy if it passes without censure or suspicion from some quarter or other, when even Mary the sister of Lazarus cannot anoint the head of her great and adorable benefactor, but there is a Judas to rail at her extravagance, and others of the disciples to sympathize with his indignation at the waste.
St. John, indeed, in his account of the transaction, speaks of Judas only as the murmurer; but that the feeling was not
confined to his thievish heart—that he was only the foremost and the loudest in giving expression to a sentiment in which others of them concurred—is pretty clear from the statement in the chapter before us, where the evangelist says, that “when his disciples saw it, they had indignation." St. Mark
“ there were some that had indignation within themselves.” The reproof, too, with which our Lord silenced their animadversions, was evidently addressed not to one, but to several. Now, that Judas should affect a benevolent indignation was only natural and characteristic; but that any other of the disciples should have felt displacency, was, perhaps, scarcely to have been expected. One would have thought that simple reverence for their Great Master would have led them to admire and applaud such an act of homage to His person ; and that the more costly the offering, the heartier would be their approval. What! could they really think the ointment wasted, when poured upon the head of Him whom they themselves recognized as God's Anointed? Or did they so little appreciate His greatness and goodness, that, when one who did feel them came and gave this affecting testimony of her reverence and love, their only sentiment was one of indignation at her profusion? They knew, too, who the woman was. They needed no one to tell them that she was Mary, the sister of Lazarus ; they knew the love that Jesus had for all that favored family, especially for her who sat such an eager listener at His feet; they knew also how doubly He had endeared Himself to her by the wonderful mercy He had so recently shown her in raising her brother from the grave; and there, too, was Lazarus at the table with them, the living memorial of His marvellous kindness. Was it possible, then, that when Mary, in some feeble expression of her unutterable gratitude, came and poured the ointment on His gracious head, they should have so little consideration either for her or for their Master, that they could only condemn it as a wasteful extravagance? “To what purpose is this waste? For this ointment
* Mark xiv. 4.
might have been sold for much, and given to the poor.” No ! let us not be unjust towards the disciples. In Judas, this was merely the hypocritical expression of disappointed rapacity. “This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag;” from which he would have rejoiced in the opportunity of embezzling to such an amount. Not so with the other disciples. No bad or sordid feeling mingled with their censure; nor probably would the thought of it have occurred to them at all, but for the suggestion of the traitor. They knew the benevolence of their Master's heart, and how considerato He was for the wants and distresses of others; they knew how little He cared even for the comforts, still less for the luxuries, of life ; and they thought, therefore, that Judas's observation was only reasonable and right, and that Mary would have acted far more in accordance with the spirit and example of Jesus Himself, whose whole life was a ministry of mercy to the poor, had the precious balsam been sold and the
distributed as Judas had suggested. They thought that they understood their Master better than she did, and that they were only entering into His feelings and anticipating His judgment, in thus condemning as extravagance what she meant as devotion. And plausible enough their reasoning may at first sight
Three hundred denarii would have comforted and cheered many a poor destitute heart; whereas, here, they were suddenly dissipated in a momentary act of homage. Yes; but there is often a lamentable lack of wisdom in these narrow calculations of obvious and immediate utility. Had Mary acted as the disciples would have had her act, had she sold the ointment and distributed the money among the poor, some would no doubt have been directly benefitted at the time; but thousands upon thousands, in all succeeding ages, would have lost immeasurably more than the objects of her charity would have gained. For how many thousand hearts have been opened by the touching narrative before us? How many thousand thousand times three hundred