Extravagent worship

The day of Jesus’ betrayal was getting closer and the Passover festival was only a couple of days away.  We saw back in Mark 12 that Jesus’ opponents were becoming more and more agitated and yet they still did not know how to handle him.  They continued to plot but they needed a pretext and a means to act against Jesus that would not backfire against them.

Read Mark 14:1-11

Jesus is back in Bethany having a meal with some of his friends when the meal is interrupted by a woman who brings a jar of precious ointment.  She breaks it open and pours it over him. We know from other Gospel accounts that those with him are scandalised because the woman has a bad reputation.  We also know that the ring leaders in grumbling are the host of the meal, Simon and Judas, the one who would betray Jesus. This event seems to have been a prompt for him to do so and John draws our attention to the fact that he was the one who looked after the disciples’ money and had been stealing from the common purse.

So, really those complaining should have known better.  First, there was already a warning for the likes of Judas at the end of chapter 12 because Jesus had contrasted the extravagant devotion of those who had little (the widow and her coins) and those who had much but exploited though who didn’t.  Secondly, Simon as a leper, presumably now healed by Jesus should have known something of Christ’s love for him.  Jesus was the one wo drew near to the unclear whether that uncleanness was due to disease or immorality.

The complaint of those offended was that the value of the ointment could have been given to the poor.  Jesus’ response is that:

You will always have the poor among you, and you can help them whenever you want to. But you will not always have me.”

This was not, as has been sometimes taken an excuse for ignoring the plight of the suffering. Jesus was not saying that they did not have to give to the poor, certainly not so they could enjoy the benefit of their own wealth.  Rather, he was cutting through false piety. They had no intention of giving the proceeds to the poor. It was a false excuse.  Watch out for those who object to things by offering alternatives that they have no plans to follow through with. 

It’s not a case of “give to me instead of give to the poor.” Rather, Jesus was saying that they could quite easily do both. They should already be giving to the poor and should continue to do so.  This woman had however, realised that there was a specific urgency to her action.  Just as it was good for Martha to busy herself as a hostess but better for Mary to pause to listen to Jesus, so too it was good to give to the poor but at that moment for the woman to offer the perfume in costly worship because she was anointing him in preparation for his coming death and resurrection.

Here are some things to consider

  • Do we ever create false excuses, alternative plans which we are not seriously following through on as reasons not to give our time and resources to worship and witness?
  • Are we making it our practice in day to day life to always have a concern for those in need?
  • What does it mean for you and I to pour out costly, extravagant worship to Jesus?
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