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it has features exceptional and somewhat contradictory to any others found in the history of Christ. A woman deeply moved breaks a box of costly ointment upon his head and feet. In rescuing her from the criticism provoked by this act, He exalts her and her deed into world-wide fame. There is no parallel to this in all these histories. It is not only exceptional, but it is not plain why it is so. The pledged honor seems inordinate. The woman, in a beautiful and touching way, sacrificed a cherished treasure upon the person of Christ, — certainly not a great act unless it were great in some unusual way. It involved but expense, and no personal danger. It had in it no element of self-denial, no great force of will, nothing of the stalwart graces of endurance or heroic purpose. Outwardly it fell far short of what men have always been doing and enduring for Christ. The catacombs of Rome are full of the ashes of believers who were persecuted for his sake, and the crumbling tablets are fast refusing to reveal their names. For centuries a great army of martyrs marched to prison, to the arena, to the stake, but leaders and host are now nameless. There are multitudes to-day whose service seems far more valuable, and is rendered at far greater cost, than the one deed of this woman, but no provision is made for their special remembrance. It seems inconsistent also with Christ's method, for it was this sort of honor and praise that He rigidly excluded. It was a fundamental point in his kingdom that personal exaltation had no place in it; the exact reverse was fundamental. Something else must be meant than that this woman was to be heralded wherever the Gospel might go. Indeed, when we look carefully at the story, we find that it does not provide the requisite elements of such a fame. The two writers who alone give the laudatory promise, withhold the name of the woman, so that if personal fame be meant by Christ, it is not connected with any person ; while John, who omits the laudatory promise, alone indicates the name. It is as though a monument were built to some hero and his name omitted from the inscription. There is indeed such a monument in the Public Gardens of Boston, that celebrates the discovery of ether, nameless of all except the mercy thus achieved, — a monument prophetic of the age when there shall be “no pain any more,” but equally Christian in the unwitting exaltation of good above the doer of good. It hints the way to a true reading of the incident before us. Christ evidently had some other purpose than to bestow personal fame on this woman; this were out of keeping with true womanly desire, with the nature and method of his kingdom, with his personal principles, and with the whole tenor of his teaching. But why does He use words that seem to imply it ? Reading the story more carefully we find that it is not the woman who is to have world-wide mention, but her deed, this that she hath done, and herself as some nameless one who rendered it. The deed is the centre of significance; there is something in this little act of reverent affection so peculiar and so valuable as to justify the honor put upon it. Let us search it out.
I think we are near the truth when we say that the deed happened to be the exact type of that feeling and relation to himself which Christ regarded as necessary, and so he seized it as a perpetual example; that is, He takes it for use. There is here no sentimentalizing, no lapsing into unusual methods. Instead He takes the act — a personal act indeed, but still the act only, — and makes it a part of his gospel. It memorializes not a person but a temper of mind, yet in and through an environment of personality. This explains why the woman is made so prominent, while the central thought rests on the action; it explains why the world-wide memorial is nameless. It has in it an element forever essential to a true reception of the gospel ; hence Christ connects it with preaching, it is to go wherever the gospel goes, and to become a part of it.
Looking at it more closely, we find as its main characteristic that it was the expression of a feeling, and that it was intensely personal. This woman had come under a great sense of gratitude to Christ; she had found in him a response to every better feeling, an insight into her heart that was like self-knowledge, or deeper still, a revelation of self to herself, a sympathy that was as a new life. The thought of Him drew her to goodness, and made evil no longer possible. And so He became enshrined in her soul almost as God; nay, all her thoughts of Him were like her thoughts of God, except that their dread was softened by a human grace. He was inspiration, guidance, strength, everything to her; hence the tribute. She does not, with long and careful thought, consider how she may forward his cause or do some good work that may please Him, — that may come after; now there is but one thing for her to do; it must be something for Jesus himself, upon his person, so that it shall express how personal and vital is his influence upon her. It is not truth, it is not an idea that inspires her, but this Jesus himself, and so upon Jesus himself she lavishes her tribute of reverent love.
But this is a gospel to be preached in all the world: How shall it preach to us? We have no seen and present Lord to receive the raptures and gifts of our love. We can lay no golden or odorous gifts by his cradle, we have no ointment for his wearied feet, no spices for his burial. Such service, were it possible, would seem somewhat apart from even our warmest thought of Christ. We cannot conceive ourselves as acting or as required to act in quite that way. The outward parallel is not for us, but the inward parallel sets forth an unending relation and an unfaltering duty. Christ asked from men nothing of an external nature, but He steadily required their personal love and loyalty. He did not ask of any a place to lay his head, it mattered little if Simon asked Him to his feasts, but, once there, it did matter whether Simon loved Him or not. Waiving all personal ministration, He yet claims personal love. Strange spectacle! Here is a man indifferent to what is done for him or to him, but demanding love! a human contradiction,
but hiding a divine truth. It is not truth or purity or wisdom you are to love, but me. You are to be faithful, not so much to your convictions as faithful to me. Nay, what you do is of secondary importance if you first love me.
Thus Christ presented Himself before the world, drawing it off from its speculations, its ritualized dogmas, its traditional ethics, and fixed its thought upon Himself, a new centre of truth and inspiration. His position is without parallel. The philosophers had said, “ Accept our ideas, adopt our systems,” but Christ said, “ Accept me." No religionists have ever made a similar claim. Gautama said, “ This is the way, by renunciation.” Mohammed said, " There is heaven.” They sunk themselves in their theories, and, while claiming leadership, put the centre of their systems in some idea or external end, but Christ merges all ideas and methods in devotion to Himself, and the devotion is summed up in love. A most strange thing; here is one whose main thesis is abnegation of self, and is himself its prime illustration, and at the same time sets himself up as the centre of the world's love! It is out of such contradiction that we are to look for the issue of the finest truth, as vision is born of darkness and light.
There is in this attitude no final abjuring of philosophy and system and doctrine, but only the adoption of a higher and surer method of reaching them, a vitalizing and humanizing of them. In its last analysis the idea is this: Truth entering human society through a person, and making love its vehi