Devotion is a commitment or strong dedication to some purpose, expanded to mean love, loyalty or enthusiasm for a person or activity. Devotion is often the outworking of passionate heart engagement. I believe the story of the woman with the Alabaster jar shows us an interesting model of passion that helps us examine and evaluate our own level of devotion.
The story, found in all four Gospels (Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; Luke 7:37-50; John 12:1-7) tells of how while Jesus was reclining in the home of Simon the leper, in Bethany, a woman came in with an Alabaster jar of costly, rare Nard perfume and poured it on Jesus in an act of heart felt worship, releasing an amazing aroma into the home. She then wiped his feet with her hair. This woman knew Jesus had forgiven her much and her heart had received His unconditional love. Having received His love, and mercy, she could not ignore Him. More so, she had to respond extravagantly, from the depth of her being.
The reaction of the host Simon and the disciples was one of hostility. They could not understand why this ointment should be wasted. It seems like they had a spirit of familiarity. They had lost the passion and appreciation of being in the company of Jesus! This sometimes happens when our relationship and devotion looses its passion.
It makes us ask ourselves what our response to all that God has done for us is. When we don’t respond passionately, it’s either because we don’t receive forgiveness to a measure that our heart fully registers. It can also mean that we don’t know how to be extravagant or passionate in worship with our Bridegroom or indeed, have chosen to ignore Him. However, note that Jesus enjoyed passionate affection. Is it possible that Jesus is looking for a more heartfelt response from our hearts?
The woman in our story had to overcome fear, mockery and gossip to go into Simon’s home to respond to Jesus. This Jar of ointment cost her everything. It was a whole year’s wage. It was so expensive and precious. It is obvious that her heart had received something that wouldn’t let her stay in the shadows and wish it away. A passion had been ignited in her heart that demanded a response to the Source. The response of the woman to Jesus was from a wholeheartedly devoted heart.
Jesus said she was anointing His Body for burial. We see that unknowingly, she had keyed into a divine need. Jesus had tried to explain to His disciples about His coming death, but they could not follow or focus, and she didn’t know this was on His Heart. However, as she responded from her heart to His, Jesus recognised the divine purpose in this expensive outpouring over Him. Jesus went on further to prophesy, saying that wherever in the world this gospel was preached, her devotion to Him would also be talked about. What a reward from Jesus.
We are not told the name of this woman. That was how “unknown” in a human sense she was. But she made such an impact on Jesus, providing the encouragement that Jesus’ Heart needed. Here was Jesus, going to take the wrath of God upon Himself on behalf of mankind. He was going to have all of mankind’s wickedness, violence and deprivation thrust on Him, and along came this woman’s tender gesture. He described her sacrifice of love as a praiseworthy and noble thing. Some translations say ‘good’ and ‘beautiful’ It’s no wonder why Jesus spoke out on her behalf against those that argued the ointment should have been sold and the money given to the poor. He pointed out that they would always have the poor, but they would not always have Him.
Over the years, we have tried to legislate devotion to God, but we can’t. We have given people rules to follow, erring on the side of living religiously, rather than encouraging ourselves towards personal relationship with Jesus. Religion is about going through repetitive motions, that has no love, or power. Religion is about man striving to be good to reach God, whereas relationship is about Jesus reaching down and pulling us out unto Himself in love.
Jesus went to the Cross so our hearts could be reconciled to the Father’s Heart. It’s easy to become trapped in a performance-based theology that God Our Father’s love must be earned or deserved. Rather, if my heart engages wholeheartedly with Jesus, I would never want to hurt or disobey Him. If I did, I would quickly repent, asking for forgiveness. I would continually want to respond to His Heart of love, no matter, where, or when, and I would be ready to give all that I have in worship of Him.
So is Jesus looking to us for a more lavish, extravagant, intimate, intense expression of our love? Do we have this story in the four gospels because this model of Devotion appeals to Jesus? Is He waiting for a more truly devoted heartfelt response from us?
Let us spend some time in the secret place today. Let’s ask Him, what He thinks of our devotion, and how we can improve on it such that, like the woman in our story, it ministers specially to Him, bringing Him great pleasure.