1 It was now two days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth and kill him, 2 for they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar from the people.”
3 And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. 4 There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? 5 For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. 6 But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7 For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. 8 She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. 9 And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”
10 Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. 11 And when they heard it, they were glad and promised to give him money. And he sought an opportunity to betray him.
A few thoughts for meditation:
1) In this reading we have a contrast between three responses to Jesus. First, we have a woman “wasting” a lavish gift on Jesus. This ointment was worth about a years wages for a common laborer. Yes, it could have been sold to help the poor. But Jesus defended this woman because he recognized her intent. She honored Jesus and prepared him for his burial. She apparently saw what the other disciples couldn’t yet see, that Jesus was not only worthy of such gifts as the Messiah, but that he must soon die. She recognized the value of Jesus, and so her tribute was not a waste but an appropriate honor for such a good king. Some today criticize Christians for wasting their gifts on Jesus. Rich believers may “waste” their money supporting foreign missionaries. Talented people “waste” their talents in humbly serving others rather than using their gifts to get rich and famous. Many scoff at Christians in giving 10% of their income in tithing. To any who do not know the value of Christ and the gospel, such devotion always seems like a “waste”. They cannot think beyond life in a fallen world. But Jesus finds such devotion “beautiful” and it is his smile and his kingdom that we seek first.
2) The second response to Jesus is the opposite of Mary. For the religious leaders, Jesus was political threat to be carefully dealt with, but not in a way that would upset the stability of their social order. They only cared about political power not the needs of their people. And they were willing to murder Jesus, and rob Jesus from the poor and needy, for their own political gain. Their position was more nuanced though, because they didn’t want the influence of Jesus to cause a conflict with Rome. Rome didn’t like self-proclaimed kings rising up in their provinces and often responded brutally against the whole population. In this case, the religious leaders feared Rome more than God, and when the time for choosing came, they chose to crucify the Messiah rather than take up their own cross to follow him. Lest we be too critical of them, how often have you compromised for the sake of appeasing your family, coworkers, or neighbors? How often have you been silent, simply to maintain your personal comfort or security? How often have you looked the other way when you saw injustice, because you didn’t want your own life inconvenienced by the cost of speaking out? If Jesus calls us to serve, it will be to serve like him, with a cross on our back and the gospel of the kingdom before our eyes.
3) The third response is that of Judas. Scholars often speculate why a trusted disciple like Judas would betray Jesus after all he witnessed. It is an interesting question, or is it? Some suggest Judas grew disallusioned with Jesus because he did not become the political Messiah he hoped for, so perhaps he tried to provoke Jesus to act that way, or perhaps he simply grew bitter with disappointment and got revenge. They try to see Judas in the most sympathetic light possible. But the only motive the gospel accounts provide is simple greed. The parallel in John 12 says Judas was the lead critic of Mary, that he was the treasurer, and that he stole from the ministry funds. Jesus likely knew the criticism “this could have been sold for the poor” was actually driven by greed. Since Jesus was preparing to die, Judas probably saw his income would be gone and betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, enough to hold him over until the next job. This also showed how little Judas valued Jesus. That was the price required to pay a master if his slave were accidentally killed by your ox (Ex. 21:32). These examples provoke us to ask the question ourselves; how much do we truly value Jesus? If man who lived and ministered with Jesus for 3 three years could betray him for so little, is it that hard to imagine ourselves doing the same thing when the test comes? What are we really willing to sacrifice for our Savior?