‘But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ’ (Philippians 3:7). What does this mean for you?
Jesus anointed at Bethany
14 Now the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were scheming to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. 2 ‘But not during the festival,’ they said, ‘or the people may riot.’
3 While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.
4 Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, ‘Why this waste of perfume? 5 It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.’ And they rebuked her harshly.
6 ‘Leave her alone,’ said Jesus. ‘Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7 The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. 8 She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. 9 Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.’
10 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them. 11 They were delighted to hear this and promised to give him money. So he watched for an opportunity to hand him over.
‘What a waste!’ exclaim those observing the woman and Jesus. ‘The poor you will always have with you,’ says Jesus, ‘She has done a beautiful thing to me.’
The heart of this passage is surrounded by evil intent (vs 1,2,10,11), and features the struggle between God’s kingdom and worldly values in the minds of the onlookers. Which is greater – a reckless, costly abandonment to love God, or the pursuit of personal wealth, even if for a good cause? The woman gave the most valuable thing she had for Jesus’ sake. She reflected Jesus’ own love for her by what she did. ‘She did what she could,’ said Jesus, not what she couldn’t. The scene reveals what God considers of greatest value: a wholehearted outpouring of love for God – the God who first loved us (1 John 4:19). Contrast this with the worldliness of those looking on. Money has value, but the woman knows ‘money can’t buy me love’! And money loses value to us the moment we die.
So how do we love? Is our purse the closest thing to our heart, as money seems to dominate our worldly culture? How balanced is our love of Jesus and our worldliness?
‘Lord, teach us to look out for times and opportunities when we can show our faith with reckless abandon, simply out of our love for you! Amen.’
Deeper Bible study
Tell Jesus how much you love him.
Our passage opens and closes with plans to betray and capture Jesus. In between there is the story of a woman pouring precious perfume onto his head. There is such a story in each of the Gospels, though the details differ. In each there is criticism of a misuse of resources that could have been used to relieve poor people. Probably, many today would agree with that point of view: so much of life is evaluated in financial terms. Value for money is part of a modern creed. The view of Jesus is different, however. He sees it as a profession of faith. While others in hatred plot his death, this woman anoints him as the Messiah who is to die and be raised. Her actions are to be remembered.
So, the anointing had practical value as a sign, but it was still a year’s wages poured out with no measurable outcome. Anglo-Saxon Christians adorned their copies of the scriptures with pictures that displayed their best artistic abilities. Medieval builders wanted churches that were greater and more beautiful than any other human edifice – although sometimes their motives were mixed. They were people for whom beauty was an important part of their worship of God; they were not just utilitarians. Do we expend money in order that we might present something beautiful to God?
Money is not forgotten as we move on to the story of the betrayal. Many have speculated on the motivation of Judas, but the only motive in the text is the money given to him. The woman would give, that Jesus might be honoured. Judas will take, that Jesus might be handed over to those who hate him. He makes shipwreck1 because of his love of money. It remains true today that ‘the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil’.2
Think about your own attitude to money. Have you ‘wasted’ money to exalt Christ?
Bible in a year
Read the Bible in a year: Deuteronomy 31,32; Romans 8
Pray for Scripture Union
Many of the children who attend the lunchtime groups run by local mission partner Beverley Schools Christian Trust have a growing interest in the Bible and are reading Bible stories at home. Pray that they will find a growing understanding of Jesus and put their faith in him, even during this time when they are unable to meet together.