Readings: John 12:1-8, 1 Cor 13:1-13
John 12:5 Then Judas…said ‘Why was this ointment not sold for 300 denarii and the money given to the poor?’
How many of us have a sneaking feeling that we’d have said just the same thing as Judas, had we been there in Bethany? Mary’s perfume is worth a year’s wage – maybe £10/20K in our terms. Just think of the cheque to Oxfam. Lord, you told that guy to sell all he had and give to the poor: look what this thoughtless woman has done! But Jesus says, Leave her alone – Of course I want you to care for the poor – and someone like Mary will always do that tomorrow and the day after– but today – she has done well, she’s anointed me for burial.
So let’s try to make sense of this. Mary loves Jesus, maybe she is in love with him. Jesus has brought her brother Lazarus back from the dead. Now Jesus is going to Jerusalem on a long last lonely journey into danger and almost certain death. And Mary wants to say I love you. She wants to say thank you. She wants to say “Jesus I want you to know on your last walk on the dusty road to Jerusalem that someone cared”
What can she do? She has a jar of most precious perfume. Does she stop to decide how grateful, how much in love she is? Does she count out a few drops? Should she measure out a teaspoon or tablespoon of thanks & love? No – Her life is just thanks and love, and she breaks the neck of the flask and pours the lot over Jesus’ feet.
Judas calculates, “What a waste!” Jesus says “Let her be. Her love is worth more than all your calculation.”
“Though I should give away to the poor all that I possess and give my body to be burned – If I am without love, it will do me no good whatsoever.” (1 Cor 13): Cold calculation has its limits. Cold calculation could have told Bach and Mozart not to waste their time composing music – when did music ever feed the hungry? Why weren’t they out growing potatoes? But “reason not the need”. “Man does not live by bread alone”.
But, Jesus says, the big cheerful, open handed, joyful gesture doesn’t mean we should forget the complex needs of the poor and the destitute. You always have the poor with you, and tomorrow you shall feed them!
A congregation gives cheerfully and recklessly to build a great ornate Cathedral. They could of course have given their money to feed the poor – but perhaps precisely because the Cathedral is built in a spirit of joyful generosity, this means that it will naturally become a place for open handed people who will give to the poor in the same spirit of reckless love that has adorned their offering to God’s house.
Decisions about use of resources are of course not always easy. Maybe we may not always get the answers right.
Many years ago now I was involved in strategy discussions in the Dept of Health. Huge decisions to be made about where to put limited resources. Civil servants doing cost benefit analysis regarding particular drugs or interventions, assessing their benefit in terms of Quality adjusted life years (QALYs) to be gained by each patient. Judas would I think have done that job well – though how else can you justify the use of NHS resources?
One answer comes from Sheila Cassidy –one of the founders of the Hospice Movement. She says “The Bethany story is particularly important to many of us who work in the hospice movement, for we too pour out the precious ointment of our time, our skill and our love over those who are dying, and who therefore in human terms are of no further economic worth.” No cost benefit analysis here – just washing the feet which will not walk tomorrow.
So – what does this mean for the decisions we make in our lives? We all have an alabaster jar of great worth. Mary gave but one year’s salary. We have a whole life at our disposal.
Revd Andrew Sails
I watched yet another heart-breaking video from Ukraine last week – Dr Kondratova caring for tiny tiny premature babies in incubators in a Kharkiv hospital. She said staff had decided to stay on the ward with the smallest babies, even in the midst of air-raid warnings. “You can’t take a child of 600g to the basement,” she said. “It would be a one-way trip. So we stay with the children & live through the bombings with them.”
This gift costs potentially more than a year’s wages – it may cost their very lives
We are not in Ukraine, but our help is needed – Maybe we can offer to share our house with a refugee family, or offer time or money to work with others to support refugees – and of course we can send money to relief agencies.
I wonder how careful and calculating we will be in disposing of the riches of our life?? Will we pour out just a few drops and then place the jar back upon the shelf – there to gather dust and be a reproach to us in years to come,
that when Christ walked to Calvary we just let him go without our loving gift? If we can but give rashly, lovingly, recklessly – then will God will accept our gift. And who knows what miracles he will work with our offering?
O Lord, may I smash the jar and pour out my gift for you –
for “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”