The following reflection is the second to be featured from participants at the 2021 GIVEN Forum. At the Forum, participants prayed with the following image, and a some felt drawn to use their gifts to share their meditations through our blog. More about the GIVEN Forum can be found at the bottom of this page.
This year at the GIVEN Institute Forum, we had a prayer workshop held by Katie from Behold. For this workshop she gave us this image to meditate on depicting Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, anointing the feet of Jesus and drying them with her hair.
What struck me first was Jesus’ posture. Since this was the obvious focal point, I took some time looking around the rest of the image to see what else might stand out. The last thing I noticed was a woman in the shadows, yet unashamedly with her hair wrapped tightly around Jesus’ feet while everyone else looked on with shock, curiosity, or annoyance. But again, after noticing her, my eyes focused back on Jesus and what His posture was saying to Mary and to the others simultaneously.
Hand stretched out to comfort her, one foot on the ground getting ready to draw Himself near to her, the other foot remaining stretched out and unmoved from her hands and hair, and eyes fixed on her alone. When you combine this with the corresponding Scripture, the scene unfolds a little more. Martha is in the background serving, Lazarus is reclining next to Jesus, and Judas is also nearby trying to convince everyone what Mary is doing is wrong, is harmful to others, and is selfish. In the Scripture, Jesus refutes Judas’ claims that Mary’s gift, the costly ointment, should have been sold to help the poor by saying, “Let her alone, let her keep it for the day of my burial. The poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.” (John 12:10)
It was in combining this line and this painting that something more was illuminated in my meditation. What Mary was giving Jesus was a unique gift from her own heart- one that only she could give because it was in response to her personal relationship with Jesus and her profound understanding of who He was.
How often do we keep our gifts hidden or to ourselves out of fear? Even if we know with every fiber of our being the truth of who Jesus is and what He asks of us, there’s still a fear that others won’t understand, or we’ll be singled out because of these gifts, or that it was a mistake we received them in the first place so we couldn’t possibly share them.
In my own life, I find myself face to face with these fears. It shows itself in an overwhelming sense that if I accept and use these gifts for God I will become so “unique” that I’ll be singled out and left all alone. This thinking can lead to a certain distrust of others and what their intentions may be for my gifts and dreams. I can also fall into the fear that these are not actually gifts that God wants me to use for this particular dream, and that I’ll look foolish after expressing the dream and using the gifts in that way. But Mary teaches me something different. It was a risk for her to live out of her new identity, found only in Christ, because who knows how people would react. It was a risk to offer the gift she did, a pound of costly ointment because its aroma would surely spread quickly and far giving her no chance of remaining in the shadows. Yet, Jesus blessed her boldness because it was a gift that came from her own unique and redeemed heart.
Jesus’ response to Judas is proof that He will bless whatever gifts we offer from our hearts to Him, and He will also rightly order other people’s responses and reactions. His gaze will never turn from us, especially when others are trying to tear us down, embarrass us, or diminish our offerings.
Jesus allows us to get down on our knees and honor Him with our gifts but at the exact same time He’s getting ready to pick us up off the ground and bring us out of the shadows and into the light. He is not afraid to tell everyone else who we really are and what gifts He’s given us. We need only accept His greatest gift, our true identity, which comes from the Father through Jesus’ merciful and generous outstretched hand.
Behold is the fruit of the GIVEN Forum in 2016. This reflection is the fruit of praying with this image at the GIVEN 2021 Forum. For more information about GIVEN, visit their website here.
Image: Tissot, James. The Ointment of the Magdalen, watercolor on graphite paper, Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York. https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/opencollection/objects/13461. Public Domain.