To what purpose is this waste?–Mat 26:8
A Strange Deed Lives Forever
The scene was Bethany, and the time was near the end. A few more days and the earthly life of Jesus would be over. Jesus and His disciples are seated at their evening meal, when a woman, whom from other sources we learn to have been Mary, did this strange deed that is to live forever. It is not always true that “the evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones.” The harm that Mary did, if she did any, lies sleeping with the other gossip of the street of Bethany. This deed still lives, like a choice framework for her heart and hand. ‘Tis one of those countless actions of the just, that smell sweet and blossom in the dust.
A Simple Act to Express Love
And the deed, however unforeseen, was very simple. It was the breaking of an alabaster box, and the pouring of the ointment on the feet of Christ. How much this Mary owed to Jesus, perhaps we shall never know. We cannot tell what a new peace had stolen upon her heart, and what a new glory had fallen upon her world, when first this guest entered her brother’s home. But when her brother died, and Jesus came, and called him from the dead, and gave him back to Bethany and to Mary, why then, by any passionate thankfulness we have felt in getting back our kindred from the gates of death, we can touch the fringes of the gratitude of Mary. And that was the motive and meaning of her act. She loved Him so, she could not help it. Christ’s love had broken her alienated heart. Now let it break her alabaster box. The best was not too good for Him, who had given her a new heart and a new home.
This Was a Deed Only Christ Could Understand
But there are deeds so fine only Christ can understand them. There are some actions so inspired, that even the saintliest disciple, leaning on Jesus’ bosom, will never interpret them aright. And this was one of these. Peter, and James, and John–they understand it now, but they did not understand it then. They were indignant. It was a shocking extravagance of an impulsive woman. What need to squander so a year’s wages of a working man–for the ointment never cost a penny less. If it were not needed now for Lazarus, it might have been sold and given to the poor.
You call them narrow? And you are irritated by their lack of insight? Stay, brethren, there were some noble features in their indignation. And had you and I been lying at that table, I almost hope we should have fallen a-fretting too. These men could not forget, even at the feast, the gaunt and horrid form of destitution that sits forever in the chamber of the village pauper, crying aloud for clothing and for bread. It may be, too, that at their evening worship they had been reading that he who gives to the poor lends to the Lord. And had they not had it from their Master’s lips that He came not to be ministered unto, but to minister? Till in the light of that, and in the remembrance of the woes of poverty, their hearts began to burn with a not so dishonourable indignation. And each began to ask his fellow, “To what purpose is this waste?”
Her Wastefulness Was the Expression of Her Love
But these disciples had forgotten one thing. They had forgotten that this woman’s wastefulness was the native revelation of her love. There is a wasteful spending that is supremely selfish. There is a lavish giving that is disowned in heaven, because the giver is always thinking of himself. But God suspends the pettier economies, and will not brook a single murmur, when He detects the wastefulness of love. It is the genius of love to give. It is love’s way to forget self and lavish everything. And Mary’s way was love’s way when she brake the box and poured the ointment on the feet of Christ. And being love’s way, it was God’s way too.
God Lavishes His Love
And so we reach the truth that I am anxious to press home on your hearts. If God be love, and if a prodigal expenditure like that of Mary be of the very essence of all love, then in the handiwork of God we shall detect a seeming wastefulness. I scan the works of the Almighty, and everywhere I see the marks of wisdom. I look abroad, and the great universe assures me of His power. But God is more than wisdom or than power. God is love. And I can never rest till I have found the traces of that love in all I know and all I see of God. Here, then, is one of love’s sure tokens. It is a royal expenditure, a lavish and self-forgetful waste. Can I detect this prodigality in the various handiworks of God?
First, then, I turn to nature. I leave the crowded city, and find my way into the field, and there, amid the hedgerows, under the open sky, I see a prodigality like that of Mary. God has His own arithmetic, it is not ours. God has His own economy, but it is not the economy of man. Things are not measured here and weighed in scales, and nicely calculated and numbered out. The spirit that breathes through universal nature is the spirit that brake the alabaster box. That heather at my feet is flinging off its seeds in such countless millions, that this one patch could cloak the mountainside in purple. Yon birch that shakes its leaves above my head could fill with seedlings the whole belt of wood. The sun is shining upon dead Sahara as well as on the living world that needs it. And the gentle rain that falls on the mown grass is falling just as sweetly on the granite rock. What mean these myriads of living things? Was He utilitarian who formed and decked the twice ten thousand creatures who dance and die upon a summer’s eve? Have we not here in primal force the spirit that prompted Mary to her deed? There is a royal extravagance in nature. There is a splendid prodigality. There is a seeming squandering of creative power. Let men believe it is the work of carelessness, or of a dead and iron law; but as for us, we shall discover in it some hint that God is love, until the day break and the shadows flee away.
Or holding still by nature, let us set the question of beauty in that light. This world is very beautiful, the children sing; and so it is. And the only organ that can appreciate beauty is the eye of man. No lower creature has the sense of beauty. It serves no purpose in the world’s economy. Beauty unseen by man is beauty wasted. Yet there are scenes of beauty in the tropics on which the eye of man has never lit. And there are countless flushings of the dawn, and glories unnumbered of the setting sun, that never fall within the ken of man. Arctic explorers tell us that in the distant north there is an unsurpassable glory in the sunset. For a brief season in declining day the levels of the snow are touched with gold, and every minaret of ice is radiant. And every sunset has been so for centuries, and never an eye has looked on it till now. O seeming waste of precious beauty! Until the heart begins to whisper, “Why, to what purpose is this waste?” Ah! it is there! that is the point. We have observed it now in the Creator’s work.
But now I turn to providence. If Mary’s action was in the line of God’s, we should detect even in providence something of the prodigality of love.
When aged Jacob sat in his tent in Canaan, nursing the hope that Joseph still was living, he would have been content to have had his son again though he came home in rags. And when the prodigal of the parable came home, ashamed of himself, and sorry for his sin, he wished no better chamber than his father’s kitchen. But God was lavish in His lovingkindness, and gave a prince and not a beggar back to Jacob. And the father of the prodigal was himself so prodigal of love that he must put a ring upon that truant hand and bind the shoes upon these wandering feet.
Now do not say all that was long ago. And do not think the God of providence has changed. Even now, in every heart and home, He is still working with lavish prodigality. O brother, what opportunities that God of providence has squandered upon you! Come, to what purpose is this waste?–unsaved heart, you tell me that. Justice would long ago have settled things. Nothing but love could ever be so lavish in letting down from heaven these opportunities. And when I think of all the gifts of God that seem to be given only to be wasted; of sight that might have seen so much, and sees so little, and that little can be so vile; of speech that might have done such noble things, and does so little, and that little can be so mean; of hearing and of memory, of thought and of imagination, lavished so royally on worthless men; then dimly I realise the prodigality of providence, and feel my hopeless debt, and the hopeless debt of all this fallen world, to the seeming wastefulness of Him who quickened Mary to her wasteful deed.
So, in the realm of nature and in the sphere of providence, we have observed a spirit akin to Mary’s. But in the world of grace it is clearer still. Indeed, when Jesus said that Mary’s deed was always to be coupled with His death, He must have recognised that the two were kin.
Now think: the death of Jesus is sufficient to pardon all the sins of every man. Why do we make a universal offer, and why do we carry the Gospel to the heathen, if we are not convinced of that? Yes, “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” There is no soul so sunk, nor any heart so ignorant, but turning may be saved. And all the teeming millions of the continents, coming to Jesus Christ for mercy, could never exhaust the merits of His blood.
But tell me, are these millions coming? And do you really believe that the whole world is being saved right now? Are there not multitudes for whom life’s tragedy is just the “might have been”? And souls unnumbered, here and everywhere, galloping down to the mist and mire? And there was room within the heart of Christ for all! And there was cleansing in the Saviour’s death for everyone! O waste! waste! waste! And to what purpose is that wasted agony? And why should Jesus suffer and die for all, if all were never to accept His love? Ah, Mary, why didst thou break the alabaster box and pour the precious ointment upon Christ? That prodigality was just the Saviour’s spirit that brought Him to the cross and to the grave. Love gives and lavishes and dies, for it is love. Love never asks how little can I do; it always asks how much. There is a magnificent extravagance in love, whether the love of Mary or the love of God.
If, therefore, you believe that God is love, if you take love as the best name of the Invisible, then, looking outwards to the world and backwards to the cross, you can never ask again, “To what purpose is this waste?” If you do that, come, over with the love as well, and go and find a calculating god who is not lavish because he does not love. Find him! and be content! Only beware! Be self-consistent! Never look more for strength when you are down. Never again look for help when you are weary. Never expect a second chance when you have squandered one. Seek not for any sympathy in sorrow, or any fellowship of love in loneliness. And never dream that you will find the Christ. Come, will that do for you, young men and women? And will that do for you, housewife or businessman? You want the loving arm and voice of God. You want the loving ministry of Christ. You, poor rebellious and staggering heart, are lost but for the lavish scattering of a love that never wearies, and will not let you go. And I believe that is mine in Jesus, and I believe that is yours. Claim it and use it. And when you see that love breaking the alabaster box, ask not the meaning of that waste again.