Now when Jesus was in Bethany, at the home of Simon the leper, a woman came to Him with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume, and she poured it upon His head as He reclined at the table. But the disciples were indignant when they saw this, and said, “Why this waste? For this perfume might have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor.” (Matthew 26:6-9, NASB)
When was the last time you did something with reckless abandon for our Lord? You sacrificed greatly for Him when it didn’t make sense. You gave with passion even if it didn’t fit into some preconceived notion of a prudent virtuous deed.
The passage of scripture before us today from the February 13th reading of our devotional Bible exemplifies such an action. This woman, Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha according to John’s gospel, in a moment of selfless extravagance dispenses a rare ointment upon the brow of Jesus that would, in just a few short days, don an excruciating crown of thorns. The cost of the ointment was equivalent to the annual earnings of the average worker in that time period. When was the last time you “blew” the sum total of a year’s wages on Christ? When was the last time I did? Ouch!
What are we to make of this? Is there anything wrong with the response of the disciples? Does it not seem sensible to use such a large and perceptively hard earned amount of wealth on a more necessary and noble cause like caring for the poor? After all, Jesus had said in the previous chapter, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”
I think a key to understanding this resides in the description given in the text as to the attitude of the disciples. We are told they were indignant; one might say irate, vexed, or offended. These are all ways of describing the term which literally means in its original form ‘to be greatly afflicted.’ Why? Was it their ointment giving them the platform to have an opinion as to its application in the first place? Were they really that concerned about the poor? Or could it be they were more concerned that they were not in possession of similar capital in order to make choices regarding its use. It is easy to judge how someone else’s resources ought to be utilized. Notice the behavior of Judas immediately following this event; he goes to the chief priests to bargain for thirty pieces of silver in betrayal of Jesus. Obviously not all of the disciples went this deep into their envy and anger; but the flesh is “desperately wicked” and jealousy does culminate into resentment.
Jesus defense of Mary is telling. Had they not heard what He previously said? He told them He would be delivered up for crucifixion! Their master, teacher, savior, and friend was going to die. Consider what I referenced earlier as to Jesus words, “…you did it to the least, you did it to Me.” Here He was, in their midst, and with hearts that should have been full of abiding affection and grief for what lay ahead, they had the opportunity to express that devotion directly to Him. “For the poor you have with you always; but you do not always have Me. For when she poured this perfume upon My body, she did it to prepare Me for burial. Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done shall also be spoken of in memory of her.” (Matthew 26:11-13, NASB)
I submit that Mary understood something they did not. The ointment was not hers to begin with, it was Christ’s. And like the wise slaves in the parable of the talents He shared in the previous chapter, she made a wise investment with her master’s property; property that had been entrusted to her (not the disciples). Consequently, in a display of sacrificial commitment, one in which we are referencing over two millennia after the fact, she prophetically prepared Jesus for the event that would result in her sin and death being taken into the grave to remain there forever; not to mention the same accomplishment for all the believing disciples! Is that not worth a year’s wage? Can a price even be placed on such an outcome? The moment reveals her heart and exposes theirs.
True service is born out of love. Do you love the Lord? Remember, we love, because He first loved us (1 John 4:19, NASB).