Why say thank you? Apparently, gratitude is good for you. At least that’s what they say. In a 2011 Thanksgiving piece for the NY Times, John Tierney wrote:
Cultivating an “attitude of gratitude” has been linked to better health, sounder sleep, less anxiety and depression, higher long-term satisfaction with life and kinder behavior toward others, including romantic partners.
The research on gratitude is causing it to be widely recommended, not just by moms to grumpy kids, but by scientists to a cranky nation. “Gratitude promoted good karma,” according to one researcher. Gratitude will make us nicer people–maybe it will even bring in world peace.
There’s just one little problem. Gratitude isn’t actually about me.
Where’s your ‘thank you’?
As we continue our study of the Gospel of Mark, we have lingered in the longest chapter. Weeks ago, in the opening post for Mark 14, we talked about sacrifice, specifically the sacrifice mothers make for their children. We moms pour out our lives for our families–from the first runny nose we wipe in the morning until the last sleepless child who finally gives it up at night. Heroically, we women pour out our lives at work and school and home, taking on chores and burdens and deadlines that others ask us to do. Not to mention the self-imposed ones nobody asked us to do.
Our sacrifices preoccupy us. And does anyone say thank you? Not on your life.
But that’s only one small part of our self-preoccupation. We also endlessly think about our needs. Not to mention our failures. And our successes. Our suffering and our worries. Our reputation. We’re obsessed with our hopes. Our future and our past. Just like the other players in Mark 14 — the Pharisees, Judas, the disciples, the witnesses, and the Sanhedrin — whatever we’re doing, we’re thinking about ourselves.
Whatever we’re doing, we’re thinking about ourselves.
Self-awareness is a blessing, but self-preoccupation is a curse. Preoccupied with our own sacrifice, our own “thank you” becomes stifled. Where can we find freedom from this chokehold? This obsessive self-absorption?
Eyes for Him
Into this scene, and through the pages of sacred text, into our lives, walks a woman. She slips quietly through the door, no apologetic “excuse me” or furtive, self-conscious looks at the other members of the upstairs dinner party. Perhaps they didn’t hear her at first.
The room is noisy, full of eating and talking and the kind of joking that happens at parties. Some people see her. But she doesn’t see them. She’s not looking at them.
She stops and stands behind the guest of honor. Taking something from her pocket, there’s a sound, a slight pop. Suddenly she’s pouring. What is that in her hand? Without warning, she drops to her knees. What’s she doing with her hair?
What’s that…oh my, that aroma. It’s intoxicating! It’s overwhelming! Conversation stops dead. However, she’s still not looking at us. She’s locked in the gaze…of Jesus.
What Mary Knew
John identifies the woman as Mary, Lazarus’s sister (John 12:3). She has history with Jesus. He was often in her home. In addition he had treated her like a disciple (Luke 10:38-42), not just a woman who didn’t need to be instructed. On the contrary, he taught her the truth about God, about himself. He was the one she and Martha could turn to for help. Mary knew Jesus loved her — it was obvious to her and to everyone else (John 11:3).
Then came the day of her deepest need. She and Martha called for him. He didn’t come. Not that day or the next. Or the one after that. When he did come, he called for Mary. She came to him, weeping, if you had been here…. Although she knew he loved her, why hadn’t he come? A shadow of doubt threatened to creep in.
Then he spoke, “Lazarus, come out!” As her dead brother broke free of death, Mary’s heart broke free, too. All doubt was swept away by utter assurance. The deepest need of her life up to this point had been met by his love. She thought her heart would burst. How could she possibly express her response?
Ah, yes, the perfume. The perfume. Yes!
His Love Births Our Thank You
What made Mary see Jesus and forget herself? The greatness of his love for her. The miracle is that she saw this clearly before she saw him hanging on the cross for her.
What will make us see Jesus and forget ourselves? The greatness of his love for us. In other words, we need the miracle of having our eyes opened, too, through the power of the Holy Spirit. He is the one who opens our eyes to see Jesus’ cross by faith, and opens our hearts to receive his love.
When we do–as often as we do–we will find ourselves on our knees before him, pouring our treasure on his feet. Contrary to popular opinion, gratitude isn’t about me, it’s about the One who gave himself for me. Actually, it’s the only sensible response.