Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.
“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
It wasn’t a “bad” idea: selling the perfume, making use of the money, giving it to the poor. It actually could have been a very kind thing to do, and quite religious, even by today’s standards. The idea may have been legitimate in terms of remembering the poor, but, according to Jesus, their definition of loving God was still too small. They were stuck in the mindset of practicing religion, and missing the opportunity for intimate relationship with God that was sitting right across the table.
Where they saw waste, God saw true worship.
For example, does it make sense to shell out a few hundred dollars to replace laptops, books, furniture and clothes for underground seminary students in China when the police raid their school? After all, the police will just come back again and again. Isn’t there a better plan? Shouldn’t we throw money after something that is more productive or strategic? Wouldn’t that be less wasteful? Wouldn’t that make more sense? It might. But then we would miss out on making the kind of extravagant offering that the woman with the alabaster jar made: one as simple as a jar, as ordinary as an apartment full of stuff. An offering that says, “Love is the strategy.”
Like the people gathered at the table that day, sometimes we may have to let go of practicing our “religion” in order to start living in fellowship with the heart and presence of Jesus that is already on the move in our world. Sometimes, that may not seem to make much sense as the world goes, and it might take a bit of courage.
The Real Question: Are there ways that I am practicing religion instead of experiencing relationship with God? Where does God long to outgrow my definition of His presence in my life?
Family Talk: Talk with your kids about the difference between “should” and “want”. You might try asking:
- What is one thing you should do?
- What is one thing you want?
- Jesus wants you to love him not because you should but because you want to.
ONE in Prayer: Lord Jesus, I want to be one who worships you with all I am and all I have. Help me to have courage when worshipping you calls me to step beyond what I know. I want to join your strategy of loving the world. Amen.
For a couple of years in college, I carpooled with a guy to the UMKC campus from Lee's Summit. One morning I was driving and we pulled up to a stoplight where a homeless man was asking for money. I try to make a habit of being generous whenever I see someone in need, so I rolled down my window and gave him my last couple of dollars. After we drove through the intersection, my friend, who I knew was a long-time Christian, said "I can't believe you just gave that guy money. You know he's just going to buy booze with that." He was probably right, but in the moment I felt convicted and replied, "Yeah, maybe. But I think it's our job to give and his job to use it wisely. I'm just doing my half of things and I can't be responsible for his part." It's a challenge every time I give away money, because I'm always tempted to judge. Always. My hope is that God will continue to challenge me, and hopefully I can tame my judgment down to a barely-audible whisper instead of a dull roar.