The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. (Mark 14:7)
Jesus was at the home of Simon the Leper for a meal in His honor. Soon He would be placed on a cross to die for our salvation. As the teachers of the law glared at Him and devised a murder plan, and Judas pondered his treacherous act of betraying Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, anointed Jesus’ body with nard. Nard was an extremely expensive perfume, worth a year’s wages, and the disciples criticized her mercilessly for her extravagance. Some of them pointed out how many poor people could have been helped with the gift Mary wasted on Jesus. That’s when Jesus gave us this morning’s passage.
It is a bit perplexing to me that Jesus spoke these words. After all, He reached out to the poor and downcast, and encouraged His disciples to do the same. He downplayed showy benevolence and encouraged people not to put too much credibility in material things. Yet, when Mary covered him with an expensive perfume, He praised her.
Specifically, Jesus praised Mary because He was facing the cross and saw her offering as a way of preparing Him for his burial. Nard was used in this way. But what do we make of Jesus’ logic? Is it ever right to offer an extravagant gift to the cause of Jesus at the expense of the poor?
When I was a teen, a church we were visiting had a huge and very expensive chandelier hanging from the ceiling. The chandelier had been the subject of much debate and criticism from within and without. But someone told me the same person who purchased the chandelier for the church ($75,000 at the time, as I remember), was also a big giver in the ministry there, and a huge supporter of world missions. Therefore, the point was made that the extravagant gift was merely an expression of love for the Lord from a man who would do anything for the kingdom.
What do you think? It is true, we should always make sure our purchases don’t send a negative message to the world about the mission of the church. And an extravagant gift for the purpose of gaining recognition will rot a believer and even an entire church family from the inside out.
On the other hand, we should not be fooled by everyone who criticizes the money the church uses to fulfill its mission. Why shouldn’t the Lord’s people use their financial resources to provide places where believers can come together for worship, fellowship and training? Are those who criticize giving more money to the poor than the Lord’s people? Are they clothing the naked, providing shelter for widows and orphans, visiting those in prison and sitting by the homeless whom they don’t even know? Maybe…and maybe not…
There are always those who give gifts for personal glory. And there are always those who criticize what others give to the Lord while they live in comfort and give little to charity. There are religious people who misuse money and non-religious people who are generous. We have to guard ourselves against assumptions and presumptions when it comes to judging other’s gifts.
But one thing I know about Mary’s gift. It was given to the right person, for the right reason, at the right time. And as far as Jesus was concerned, the cost was irrelevant. What is most relevant to us when we give…the amount or the purpose?
Dear God, show me where to use what You have given me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.