Our world certainly needs more love. I recently read an article in The New York Times about tribal warfare in Kenya, which reminded me of the need for love in our world. It may sound naïve, but I can imagine a much different world where love abounds, can’t you? One of the problems is that we have embraced so many kinds of love and have forced ourselves into being practical and compartmental with our love.
If I’m looking for practical ways to express my love for golf without compromising my love for my wife; if I’m trying to balance my love for food with my love for good health; or if I’m wanting to express my love for technology while not putting my bank account at risk, then I’d better be practical. In many ways, being practical about my loves keeps me out of some discomforting positions.
I avoid hunger, among other discomforts, by putting a practical-sized donation in the Salvation Army bucket at Christmas. I measure my feelings and commitments to others to protect myself from getting hurt. I have a practical escape route if a relationship gets too messy. I spread myself among several commitments so that no one or no cause I value is abandoned. I can avoid guilt by spending a lot of money on gifts for those I love whom I haven’t given the time of day lately.
But at the same time—let’s be practical. I’m not going to empty my savings account. I acquire TiVo® to record my favorite television programs and the NFL game so that I can attend an event at church or my campus ministry. That’s just practical. And that’s the problem with love these days; it’s far too practical. If we’ll be honest for a moment, we have to admit that practical love is not very appealing or satisfying. What should we do? Do we throw caution to the wind? Maybe.
Love Rushed In
There’s a story in the Gospels that throws a huge wrench in our notions about love and the practical nature of our loving. Matthew told the story in chapter 26.
Jesus and His disciples were at the home of a man named Simon. I’m sure they were having a pleasant meal until
the swift feet of a woman crashing the party interrupted them. She landed right behind Jesus, where He was reclining at the dinner table. Don’t you know the room grew very still and quiet—so quiet that they could easily hear the crack of the alabaster jar when she broke it; so quiet they probably heard the fragrant perfume pour over Jesus’ hair and drip off of His head and shoulders onto the dirt floor of Simon’s home. This was a remarkable scene.
The disciples were indignant, which means they were pretty ticked off. I can only imagine Judas’ reaction: “How impractical! We could have fed hundreds of poor people had she simply given us the jar to sell in the market. Instead, she’s wasted the whole thing on Jesus.” What audacity the disciples had.
What’s lost in the translation of the story is the value of that jar the woman carried. Matthew simply mentions “an alabaster jar of very expensive fragrant oil,” but we know from other Gospel accounts of the story that the jar contained spikenard. This tells us something about the woman’s love for Jesus.
Spikenard is a perfume distilled from the root of a small herb that grows high in the Himalaya Mountains in what is now Nepal. Imagine the difficulty and expense of getting that perfume to Galilee. The herb was first harvested, then the root was crushed, pounded, and mixed with oil to produce the perfume. The perfume was then poured into a jar carved from alabaster, a costly substance resembling marble.
Next, the alabaster jar traveled down the mountains of Nepal, over rivers, through valleys, and by camel caravan all the way to the south of India, where it was deposited on a merchant ship. The ship traveled for weeks across the Indian Ocean, a very dangerous voyage over unpredictable waters and under the constant threat of pirates. The ship finally reached the tip of Arabia, where, once more, the cargo was packed on camels and made, what some have estimated, a 65-day journey to Petra, a desert city south of Judea. From there, a merchant brought the alabaster jar to Galilee. It’s no wonder this alabaster jar could have sold for 300 denarii, or a year’s wages (Mark 14:5). Put in our economy, this 12-ounce jar of spikenard perfume was worth about $2,000 an ounce.
The woman’s love is an incredible contrast to our measured, practical love. While we tend to love others and Jesus by little drops of kindness, she offered an exquisite gift of love, breaking the jar and pouring out the entire contents until there was nothing left. This certainly wasn’t a practical love—it was impractical—but it stands today as a memorial of what love looks and smells like. I have a hunch that the fragrance of her love lingered for several days; and it still lingers today in the pages of God’s Word.
Yes, there are several degrees of love; but a broken woman displayed the kind of impractical, exquisite, and extravagant love of which God alone is worthy.
The Meaning of Love
Unselfish, loyal, and benevolent intention and commitment toward another. The concept of the love of God is deeply rooted in the Bible.
The Hebrew term chesed refers to covenant love. Jehovah is the God who remembers and keeps His covenants in spite of the treachery of people. His faithfulness in keeping His promises proves His love for Israel and all humanity.
The word phileo refers to tender affection, such as toward a friend or family member. It is used to express God the Father’s love for Jesus (John 5:20), God’s love for an individual believer (John 16:27), and Jesus’ love for a disciple (John 20:2). Phileo is never used for a person’s love toward God.
The word agapeo is rarely used in extrabiblical Greek. It was used by believers to denote the special unconditional love of God and is used interchangeably with phileo to designate God the Father’s love for Jesus (John 3:35), God the Father’s love for an individual believer (John 14:21), and Christ’s love for a disciple (John 13:23).
This article is from the Winter 2008-09 issue of Collegiate magazine. Click HERE to subscribe.