6 While Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon, a man who had a serious skin disease, 7 a woman approached Him with an alabaster jar of very expensive fragrant oil. She poured it on His head as He was reclining at the table. 8 When the disciples saw it, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. 9 “This might have been sold for a great deal and given to the poor.” 10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a noble thing for Me. 11 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me. 12 By pouring this fragrant oil on My body, she has prepared Me for burial. 13 I assure you: Wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told in memory of her.”
3 While He was in Bethany at the house of Simon who had a serious skin disease, as He was reclining at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of pure and expensive fragrant oil of nard. She broke the jar and poured it on His head. 4 But some were expressing indignation to one another: “Why has this fragrant oil been wasted? 5 For this oil might have been sold for more than 300 denarii and given to the poor.” And they began to scold her. 6 Then Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why are you bothering her? She has done a noble thing for Me. 7 You always have the poor with you, and you can do what is good for them whenever you want, but you do not always have Me. 8 She has done what she could; she has anointed My body in advance for burial. 9 I assure you: Wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told in memory of her.”
1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany where Lazarus was, the one Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 So they gave a dinner for Him there; Martha was serving them, and Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with Him. 3 Then Mary took a pound of fragrant oil—pure and expensive nard—anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped His feet with her hair. So the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. 4 Then one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot (who was about to betray Him), said, 5 “Why wasn’t this fragrant oil sold for 300 denarii and given to the poor?” 6 He didn’t say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief. He was in charge of the money-bag and would steal part of what was put in it. 7 Jesus answered, “Leave her alone; she has kept it for the day of My burial. 8 For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me.”
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.
While He was in Bethany at the house of Simon who had a serious skin disease, as He was reclining at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of pure and expensive fragrant oil of nard. She broke the jar and poured it on His head. But some were expressing indignation to one another: “Why has this fragrant oil been wasted? For this oil might have been sold for more than 300 denarii and given to the poor.” And they began to scold her.
I take a certain degree of pride in being a bit frugal. I’m a conscientious shopper who buys a lot of my clothes at a thrift shop, looks for deals when grocery shopping, and often leaves sale stickers on my discounted books to remember what a great bargain I got. My family often has to endure my coming home to rejoice in a wise purchase on something I (or the family) needed.
Though I don’t follow all of Dave Ramsey’s rules for financial peace, I like to live within my means and don’t like being wasteful or excessive. The way I generally see it: Extravagance = Bad; Frugality = Good.
That is what makes this passage of Scripture so intriguing. The hero of this story is a young lady who does something extravagant, even foolish in the eyes of those around her. According to the account in the Gospel of John, it is Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, who breaks a beautiful vase with costly “pure nard” in order to anoint Jesus. The value of this expensive fragrant oil was over 300 denarii, about a year’s wages.
All kinds of red flags go up in my mind. What incredible waste! Was this a family heirloom? A future dowry? A rainy-day source of funds for any potential lean years? After all, if Mary has money to burn, couldn’t she have donated the value to a worthwhile cause? Didn’t Jesus love and care for the poor and teach generosity towards the less fortunate? What a waste of resources!
And yet...Jesus commends Mary’s actions and defends her before her accusers. Why? I believe her motivation reflected an extravagant devotion to her Lord, a superior value compared to the monetary worth of her costly possession.
Here are some of the take-aways I have from this story and from Jesus’ response:
- Poverty: “You always have the poor with you” is not a call to indifference towards those in need, because Jesus assumes His followers will always have opportunities to do good to the poor. One can hardly read the Gospels (and the whole Bible!) without being convinced that God has a special concern for the poor, and so should His people. Jesus’ statement does remind us, however, that this side of heaven we will never achieve a utopian ideal where all societal ills are eliminated. Where improvements can be made, then certainly Christians should take the lead; but the causes of poverty are complex and the brokenness of this world, including the evil in the hearts of people, will always fail to achieve a heaven on earth. But this is no excuse not to try!
- Extravagant Devotion: A frugality of spirit is not always a good thing. There are times to throw caution to the wind and experience the freedom that comes with being “all in” in our pursuit of Jesus. Christ calls us to a risky adventure that may look foolish to those who are blinded by the world’s values and way of thinking. Are you willing to look foolish to those around you if it means being a faithful follower of Christ? Is your devotion to Jesus worth more than a year’s wages? Honestly?
- Prudence: Yes, the Scriptures call us to live wisely and not foolishly. Yet, our efforts to live sensibly are often motivated more by our desire to be self-reliant and successful so that we don’t have to depend on anyone, not even God. The account in John tells us that Judas’ supposed concern about this waste was actually motivated by his own greed (see John 12:4-6). Do we make an idol out of self-reliance and “prudent living”? Are we willing to sacrifice safety and security if this is the call of God on our lives? I’ve heard it said that most people expend all their energy to control their lives so that they can arrive safely at death’s door. We have a few fleeting years on earth. Will we risk living in God’s Great Adventure and give our lives to what ultimately matters, or settle for the world’s lesser counterfeit?
- How is your devotion to Christ today? Guarded? Partial? Mostly Surrendered? Extravagant?
- Has your devotion to Christ ever made you look foolish in the eyes of your friends or family? If so, when? What were the circumstances? If not, what do you think is the reason?
- It’s been said that you either risk or you rust. Are you risking or rusting in your life? If you are risking, what is the goal or the purpose? What might it look like to take a risk for Jesus?
- What is one way you can be extravagant towards Christ this week with one of your resources—your time, talents, or treasures? Will you spend half a day communing with Him on a prayer retreat? Will you use one of your gifts or talents to help others see Jesus more clearly? Will you forego an anticipated purchase in order to use those funds to bring Jesus to the world?