Ever feel like God is asking too much of you? Ever look at the sacrifice of God’s son and wonder whether he’s demanding too much in return? Ever think that the value of salvation is overstated?
Sunday we will read John’s version of the story of the anointingof Jesus’ feet with perfumed ointment. We’ll hear strange sentences like, “You will always have the poor with you.” And we’ll surely reserve our disapproving anger for Judas, who, as John puts it, “kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.” But I think the real value of this gospel lesson isn’t found in the odd reference to the poor or the vilification of Judas but in the tension between the three main actors on stage—Jesus, Judas, and Mary.
Jesus is about to die. The original readers of John’s gospel knew that. And we know that. We’ve been getting ready for it for almost five weeks. And, as the story is told, Mary also knows what is going to happen, and she acts appropriately. Judas, on the other hand, isn’t able to grasp the significance of the anointing and so asks a perfectly reasonable question: Why not sell the ointment and give the money to the poor?
It all depends on how you see the story ending. If you’re like Mary and can foresee the sacrifice that Jesus is prepared to offer, pouring the expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet as a responsive gesture of love makes sense. With the cross in view, no offering is too rich—no gift is too costly. But, if you’re like Judas, whose zealotry confused political and military victory with God’s plan for the messiah, the anointing is a lavish, wasteful act. I think John’s editorial comment about Judas’ motive is a red herring. Even if his motives weren’t pure, Judas’ words point not to dishonesty but to an honest questioning about the nature of Jesus’ mission. If you don’t expect Jesus’ death to be the path to new life, why would you waste the ointment on his feet?
We, too, are in the room that night. At times, we see Jesus’ life and death for what they really are—the sacrifice of love that brings life to the world. In those moments, our answer is always “Yes.” No matter what is asked of us, we willingly give it to the Lord, pouring our very hearts out at the feet of Jesus. Other times, however, we lose sight of God’s plan. We forget that our salvation was bought with a price that we could never repay, and, when we fail to see the value of that free gift, our hearts are hardened and our answer becomes “No.”
Church again this Sunday? Don’t I deserve a day off?
Why are they asking for more money? Haven’t I given them enough?
How many times are they going to ask me to volunteer? Don’t they know I’m busy?