Expressive Gratitude

I keep some thank-you cards at all times, mainly because I try not to take for granted the kindness of others. Sending a card with a few extra words that express our hearts’ feelings toward the giver makes all the difference, to me. One of my pet peeves is people who fail to say thank you when someone does a good deed for them or say a few words of encouragement to them, although I admit that sometimes I am lax in making my gratitude known. For me, gratitude must be expressed in ways that demonstrate the sincerity of our gratefulness, especially when we receive help and hope from God. I am striving to learn to emulate the expressive gratitude of Mary of Bethany, as found in John 12. Mary gave of her best and risked public shame and gossip in her sincere attempt to thank Jesus for restoring to her a precious loved one.

To appreciate Mary’s  expression of thankfulness in Chapter 12, you have to know the story of how Jesus raised her brother, Lazarus, from the dead in Chapter 11. Mary and her sister, Martha, sent word to Jesus that his friend, their brother, was very sick and asked if he would come quickly to help. Jesus, knowing that Lazarus was going to live, waited two more days before leaving for Bethany. By the time he arrived there, Lazarus had died. Mary and Martha were heartbroken, and for good reason. Not only had they lost a beloved brother, but they became women alone without a male for safety or support in a culture in which women alone were financially and socially vulnerable. They loved Jesus, but both accosted him for taking so long to come.  When he arrived, Mary fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:32).

When Jesus saw her weeping, he asked where was Lazarus buried. When he arrived at the tomb, he prayed to God, and then he proceeded to raise Lazarus from the dead. When Lazarus came out of that tomb,  I can just imagine the tremendous joy that Mary and Martha felt at the return of their brother. Their faith in Jesus had been justified and all was well again in their world. Mary must have done a lot of reflecting on how she could express her gratitude to Jesus for the gift of her brother’s life. And then, days later at a dinner in Jesus’s honor, she expressed her gratitude in a way that potentially could have brought great shame to her and her household. But, I believe she simply decided that what mattered most to her was that Jesus know the magnitude of her appreciation for his actions.

In John 12, we learn that Mary came into the home where Jesus was having dinner with other men including her brother Lazarus, and as Jesus ate his dinner, she broke open an expensive jar of perfume and poured it over his head, anointing and preparing him for his eventual death and burial. There was an outcry from those around the table, including Judas Iscariot, because of the expensiveness of the perfume and what selling it could have provided for the poor. Her actions in wasting such an expensive jar of perfume and not using it to provide for the poor among them could have left her marked as insensitive and thoughtless, which could have led to her being publicly shamed. Indeed, it could have hurt her family’s witness for Jesus as the Messiah. But Jesus understood her actions, and he said, “I tell you the truth, wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman’s deed will be remembered and discussed” (Mark 14:9).

And we are still discussing her good deed today! I believe that every time Mary looked at her brother, she felt such gratitude to Jesus that just saying thank you was not sufficient for her. She wanted to express her gratefulness in a way that demonstrated her deep love and appreciation for his act of love towards two women who believed in him. Her anointing of Jesus with the very best that she had, her most expensive perfume, was a form of worship and praise and an expression of her deep gratitude for the wonder of his actions towards her and her sister in the land of the living. The Scripture tell us that the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume (John 12:3).

I believe that we, too, must often reflect on how good Jesus has been to us, bringing that which was dead in our lives alive again, be it our dreams, our hopes, our health, or our lost lives. Then, like Mary of Bethany, we need to worship him with the best that we have to give, allowing our praises to rise up to heaven, bringing to Jesus the fragrance of our gratitude, thankfulness, and love. We must express our gratitude in how we live, in obeying God’s words, and in how we treat our families, friends, neighbors, strangers, and the foreigners who live among us. I believe that these are the kinds of expressions of gratitude that Jesus would defend and appreciate.

Father in Heaven,

    Thank you for soon being nine years cancer-free from colon cancer. Thank you for placing me in the right place for the cancer to be found, and then providing health insurance so wonderful that I had the best of care, even though I had only been on the job for two weeks! They could have fired me, but You went ahead of me and touched the right hearts to secure me the peace and care I needed for healing. Like Mary, I am so grateful for a chance at living life to the fullest. Let me never forget to praise you for your faithfulness, compassion, and unfailing love. Grant others dealing with cancer and other chronic illnesses, O Lord, the same help and hope. In Jesus’ s Name, Amen.

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