Mark 14: 3 – 9 It’s a Blessing to Receive November 21, 2021


It’s a Blessing to Receive
Mark 14: 3 – 9

(preached November 21, 2021)

You’ve probably heard the saying that there are two kinds of people: pessimists and optimists. Pessimists see the glass as half empty, and optimists see the glass as half full. Recently I heard a new twist on that saying: there are actually three kinds of people. The pessimist sees the glass as half empty. The optimist sees the glass as half full. Then there’s the realist. The realist knows that the glass may be half empty or it may be half full, but, sooner or later, someone is going to have to wash the glass.

Being an optimist, or a pessimist, or a realist affects your attitude about life: is life full of burdens for you, or is it full of blessings? If your life is full of blessings, those blessings are cause for gratitude.

This Thursday, in homes all over the country, we’ll have a chance to express gratitude. We’ll celebrate a very special day. Thanksgiving is the one holiday that all Americans share: black, white, Asian, Hispanic, Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, and Jewish, not to mention the growing group of folks who call themselves “spiritual but not religious.” Thanksgiving is the one day we all set aside to pause and reflect on everything we have to be grateful for.

It’s good to set aside a day for gratitude. It’s good for us to stop in our busy lives and thank God for all the blessings God has given us: to show how grateful we are to God. We’re grateful to God, and sometimes we’re grateful to other people as well. Once in a while someone does something wonderful for us.

When was the last time you received the gift of something really wonderful? Maybe it was a spontaneous gesture, like your grandchild popping in to help you rake the leaves in your yard. Maybe it was amazingly generous, like your brother showing up on your birthday with tickets to the Red Sox. When was the last time someone did something for you that was lavish and extravagant?

How did you feel when that happened? Were you simply happy to receive such a generous gift? Or were you uncomfortable to be the receiver? Did you feel awkward, even embarrassed, that someone had spent time and money just to do something wonderful for you? Did you think the time and money could have been spent on someone who had a greater need than you? Or did you maybe feel uncomfortable to receive a lavish gift because you felt you didn’t deserve it? You just didn’t feel worthy of such generosity.

A lot of us have mixed emotions when we’re on the receiving end of someone’s generosity. If the generous gift surprises us, those emotions can be even more overwhelming. But take a look at the way Jesus reacts in our passage for today from the gospel of Mark.
Mark brings us into the home of Simon the leper, where Jesus is eating dinner. Suddenly a woman appears. She takes a jar of very expensive ointment, breaks it open, and pours it over Jesus’ head. How does he react? He declares that she has done a beautiful thing.

Jesus doesn’t have any trouble saying “thank you.” He isn’t uncomfortable to be receiving. He doesn’t feel unworthy of her generosity. He can see that she is acting straight from the heart, full of the wish just to make him happy. She’s acting out of her deepest desire, the desire to shower him with love and affection. Jesus knows it’s not a time to say, “Oh you shouldn’t have.” It’s a time to say, graciously and gratefully, “Thank you. You have done a beautiful thing.”

We don’t know the woman’s name. We don’t know the nature of her relationship with Simon and his guests. We do know it would take a year for someone to earn enough money to buy a jar of ointment like that. It was a costly gift. And the woman pours it out to the last drop.

Did you notice Jesus’ companions at the table that night? Their reaction is very different from his. Some of them react to the women’s generosity with anger. They say to each other, “Hey, that ointment might have been sold for a lot of money, and the money given to the poor. What a waste!”

When someone gives you a lavish gift, you might well think about how much it cost. And you might well think about the great need in the world around us. You might well think that all the money that went into that gift could have been given to someone who needed help. There’s no doubt that poverty is a tremendous problem here in our country, and all over the world. There’s no doubt that you and I, as followers of Jesus, are called to help alleviate poverty. We’re called to alleviate poverty by giving to those in need and by working to end the conditions that cause poverty in the first place.

So when you’re surprised with a generous gift, maybe you think, “the needs in the world are so great. Surely somebody needs this more than I do.” But look again at the way Jesus reacts to the lavish gift this woman gives him. He simply receives it! He simply enjoys it! He simply says, “Thank you. You have done a beautiful thing.”

You and I might feel uncomfortable about receiving a generous gift. We might be concerned about the great needs of the world. But I think there’s another reason it’s hard for us simply to receive a generous gift and say “thank you.” It might be hard for us to receive such a gift because we don’t think we deserve it. We think, surely if the giver knew about all our faults, there’s no way they’d be giving us a gift like that. We think, if the giver really knew us, warts and all, they would not give us such a generous gift.

We might feel undeserving. But take another look at Jesus. As the fragrance of that costly ointment fills the air around him, does he protest that he is undeserving? No. Jesus was convinced that God wants to bless us with good things, and wants us to bless one another. Jesus was convinced that, no matter how undeserving we might feel, when we turn to God, we receive blessings greater than we can imagine.

The God who has given us life wants to bless us with good things. The God who made us finds each and every one of us deserving of gifts great and small. In God’s eyes, we are worthy to receive blessings beyond our wildest dreams.

So the next time you receive a generous gift, remember the woman who disrupted a dinner party with a wildly extravagant gift. Remember how Jesus reacted. Remember that when you receive a generous gift, it’s not a time to say, “Oh, you shouldn’t have. Surely someone else needs this more than I do.” It’s not a time to say, “Really, I don’t deserve this.” The next time a generous gift comes your way, just smile and say, “Thank you. You have done a beautiful thing.”








Rev. Elva Merry Pawle
Pentecost 26