A few years ago while purchasing some scented oils to use in making Christmas gifts, I ran across spikenard. Since childhood, one of my favorite New Testament stories has been from the 14th chapter of Mark – the woman who anointed Christ with spikenard oil. It was probably the exotic details that first captured my imagination. A strange sounding oil in an alabaster box which had to be broken to get to the oil – it does sound like something out of my fairy tale books (speaking as someone to whom the brothers Grimm were practically adoptive uncles.) In any case, in honor of my childhood affection for that story, I added a bottle of spikenard to my cart. A small bottle. The stuff is still ‘very precious’.
Like all good stories, in particular Scriptural, this one has met different needs for me over the years. I know that there are some lovely messianic symbols here. But I’ll be honest: I rarely read Scripture looking for messianic symbols. Or signs of the times. Or the mysteries of the universe. I am too selfish for all that. I go looking for discernment and the Comforter. It is strictly personal.
In the New Testament I especially spend a lot of time imagining for myself what the people who interacted with Jesus were thinking and feeling. When I think of the woman with the alabaster box of oil, I have imagined a slow dawning of understanding. A waking up to realizing who Christ was. And then to her horror, recognizing what that meant. That he would be sacrificed. That she would likely witness his death. I imagine her response to this, as I think most of us respond when faced with the pain of those we love, was to want to do something. And to feel helplessly overwhelmed at her lack of ability to do anything. Anything meaningful, in any case.
There is a divide then, isn’t there? Some, when faced with being unable to do anything that feels like it could be enough, simply do nothing. And some find something to do anyway. Some stand to the side and others offer what in their minds seems to be a pitiful offering. What could my small donation do in the face of a nation’s devastation? What balm could my handmade treats and gifts possibly offer friends suffering searing private loss?
The answer here seems to be – it is enough. It is perhaps more than enough.
The Bible says that ‘they murmured against her’ who brought the oil to anoint Jesus. He defends her. He says ‘She hath done what she could….’ To Him, this is no pitiful offering. No, it is enough to him that it deserves to be the act for which this woman will always be known. She did, simply and only, what she could. And I hear in His words tenderness toward that.
It is not only in the face of the sorrow and pain of others that I feel my capacity is inadequate. At the end of many days I have an unhealthy tendency to feel as though I have only reinforced that old grade school condemnation: does not live up to her potential. Whether professionally, spiritually, socially, or in my silly endless endeavors to stretch beyond my own horizons, I so often feel I have fallen short. There is so much to do. So much that ought to be done. It is overwhelming.
I am not good at acknowledging my own boundaries and weaknesses. I find myself second-guessing my accomplishments and acting as if my days are full of failure when that is not reality. On the evenings when this becomes a burden, I am soothed if I reach for this bottle, tiny in my palm. I think of that fragment of a verse: She hath done what she could. And I wonder – have I done what I could? Surprisingly the answer is often a sweet yes. I have done what I could. Is it enough? Well, no. The list will never grow shorter. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want it to. But is it enough? Well, yes. In the paradox of life and with the grace of the Atonement, it is.