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.” -Mark 14:3-9 NIV
I can hear the murmur in the crowd, “What a waste!”
This is the indictment and protest of her pouring her expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet. I wonder if her critics sacrificed their most precious possessions? It’s easier to focus our attention on the actions of others than on our own. They sized up her offering- a year’s wage, and they deemed her actions wasteful. But, isn’t this her perfume? And why are they focused on her instead of Jesus?
Jesus doesn’t see her action in the same light as her critics. Their purely “cost-benefit analysis” approach to evaluating a persons’ deeds is faulty and broken. He considers her gesture completely suitable, and even honorable enough to remember “wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world!”
Jesus’ words are not meant to diminish the importance of helping the poor. He simply understands that her actions confirm her heart and motivation. She has the correct focal point.
When our attention is focused in the wrong direction, it’s hard to give our allegiance to Him. But when we fix our eyes on Jesus, we gain a proper perspective of what matters.
This resets and reprioritizes our life focus. Then in authentic worship, we find ourselves “wasting” our life on Jesus, and giving ourself to His agenda rather than worrying about our own priorities or that or others.
This reprioritization of Him as our center, transforms our life, causing us to become like Him and take on His character and His priorities. This includes becoming like Him in compassion for the poor and suffering, and pursuit of justice and making all things new in Him. Jesus actually quotes Deuteronomy 15 in His response to the women’s objectors. This passage encourages radical generosity toward the poor.
He understands that following Him flows from a life of worship and not simply from doing the right things. Authentic generosity follows our worship of God. First things first! To walk as Jesus walked we have to focus our affections on Him before all else. Otherwise, we risk the inclination to pat ourselves on the back and think we can please God and earn salvation through good deeds and being better than others.
When we make Him the center of our affection, we pour ourselves out in beautiful service to Him and others. Walking as Jesus walked begins with worshipping Him.
It’s interesting that the host of the party is Simon the Leper of the town of Bethany. Many historians believe Bethany was “a place of affliction/poverty” and “a place of the poor”. 1 This makes sense when we consider the conversation in Mark 14. Jesus spent a lot of time with the afflicted and the poor. We have many gospel accounts that demonstrate His love for them and meeting of their physical and spiritual needs. But in this scene He directs our attention first to Him and our worship.
What tends to distract you from worshipping Him first? Why do you think worship has to precede service? What is worship a response to for us as Christians?
“Man, so long as he remains free, has no more constant and agonizing anxiety than find as quickly as possible someone to worship.” – Fyodor Dostoevsky
1 Brian Capper, in Charlesworth, 2006, pp. 497–98
Mike Harder, President of Concentric