But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was to betray him), said, ”Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” This he said, not that he cared for the poor but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box he used to take what was put into it. Jesus said, “Let her alone, let her keep it for the day of my burial. The poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.” - John 12:4-8
John’s Gospel records the extravagant offering by Mary, who washed Jesus’ feet by anointing them with costly perfume and then drying them with her hair. Such a personal and extravagant expression of devotion shows the depth of Mary’s love for her Lord. We can imagine that the house was filled with the strong musk smell from the nard, such that no one could overlook the act. The house must also have been filled with that uncomfortable feeling of witnessing a public display of affection.
John reports that Judas was quick to take issue with Mary’s offering. It seems that no good deed goes unpunished. “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” Judas inquired. John tells us that Judas had little regard for the poor; his motives were more self-serving. Judas’ criticism was based on the opportunity cost of the gift. If Mary didn’t want the ointment, she could have sold it for a full year’s worth of wages, and that money could have been given to alleviate suffering. Jesus swiftly and strongly rebuked Judas. First, Jesus seemed to recognize that Mary anointed his feet with nard not because she did not want the costly ointment, but because it was likely the most expensive thing she owned. She treasured it and was giving it freely to him as an extreme act of sacrifice and devotion. Second, Jesus made it clear that the greater opportunity cost was to miss the moment at hand. “The poor you will always have with you, but you do not always have me,” Jesus told him. Of course, the setting of this event in Bethany just six days before the Passover tells us that Jesus would be crucified within the week. Mary may have been more aware of this opportunity than anyone else.
The truth is that we all face opportunities – some economic, some vocational, some relational. There is a wisdom that comes from knowing which opportunities have eternal value, and which ones simply advance our own narrow interests. Mary, it seems, was wiser than most, even though her action came under scrutiny and attack.
Good Father, deepen my devotion, my love, my sacrifice, my faith, that I may freely and joyously seize the opportunity and offer you the very best that I have and the very best that I am. Amen.
A Bible study devotional blog by Gorman Houston