[A short simple message for ECM]
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[a] 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,[b] 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.”
Wow. I feel like today’s passage is a bit extreme. The woman’s action is extreme and there are some extreme differences in the disciples’ reactions and Jesus’ reaction to this woman.
Let’s take a look at what the disciples were thinking. Now, the disciples were indignant! “Why this waste!”, they cried out. “Imagine what we could have done with that money!” You see, the woman with the alabaster jar brought a flask of ointment that is very costly. Back in those days, women kept perfume as a way to store their life savings. Three hundred denarii would have been about a years’ wages, so to translate this in our day and age, she spent maybe about $50,000 on Jesus in one act. She didn’t dab out a few drops and lightly sprinkle the perfume. She broke the flask and poured it over Jesus’ head. I mean, if you had an extra $50,000, what would you do with it? Buy an apartment, hire a live-in caretaker, buy all the Pepsi you could get? Would you give it all to Jesus, like this woman does here? Well, I would definitely think about buying all of that stuff to make my life more comfortable and make sure to have some savings leftover, too!
So many things could have been bought, so many people could have been fed, so many other things could have been done with this money, the disciples are thinking. For them, the calculations going on inside of their heads were going haywire because this transaction didn’t make any sense. The outrage of such a wasteful act caused them to scold this lady harshly.
In this scene, contrasted to the disciples’ calculating attitude, Jesus says something completely different. He silences the disciples by saying, “She has done a beautiful thing to me.” Why does he call this woman’s act beautiful? Because she has done this for Jesus out of love. The way that the woman poured out everything was such an expression of total love. The whole room would have instantly smelled of this very costly perfume. Wow. That’s literally breathtaking. You see, a calculating and withholding heart is just the opposite of love. Love is uncalculating and overflowing. Love is bad at math.
In the face of love, we often want to give our best – our all – to our loved ones without any hesitation. In fact, to be calculating would actually be very cold and unloving. Can you imagine a man who is courting a young lady thinking to himself, “Well, it cost me $50 to get a dozen red roses, and even more for dinner at this fancy restaurant. She better start falling head over heels with me, and fast! I mean, I can’t keep doing this forever.” If my fiancé had that kind of attitude, I’d be questioning whether I’d want this relationship to continue. After all, love is limitless. For example, let’s think about a parent’s love for their children. Love isn’t just limited to a few sleepless nights of changing diapers, a few meals prepared here and there. Parents love their children so much and they want to keep giving more to their kids even long after they are all grown up. In a marital relationship, the husband and wife don’t act out of stinginess, either. They willingly vowed to love and cherish one another, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health. In other words, they vowed to love each other in all circumstances, no matter what!
Jesus calls this woman’s act beautiful because this is the same kind of love God has for us – extravagant, boundless. It’s the story of God sending his only Son who leaves a perfect pristine heaven to come to an earth polluted by sin and corruption. Leaving a throne of complete and total power to be limited by a small body of a Nazarene man. To eventually be humiliated, tortured, and brutally murdered. The woman’s flask was broken and ointment poured out for Jesus. Jesus’ body was broken and his blood was poured out for us. So, the story of the woman with the alabaster really isn’t too far from what Jesus did for us.
Just as we might look at this woman and say, Why this waste? Why waste $50000 on Jesus? So also we might look at God and think, Why this waste? Why would you waste Jesus’ life in order to save sinners?
I imagine that God would respond, “Because.. I love them. I love Cora. I love Lisa. I love Janet. It might seem like a waste, but to me it’s worth it, because I love them.”
Let me ask you, do you know that God loves you, this much? That he was willing to do something extremely crazy like sending his Son down to earth, to take on all of your sins, and to forgive you and relate to you in love? Jesus has paid it all, so you can not only honestly confess your sins to God, but you can also claim God’s love and forgiveness in your life! It doesn’t matter if you are Christian or not Christian, you can start claiming this truth today and you can continue to claim this truth each and every day.
When we think back to the woman with the alabaster jar, we see that she poured her most precious thing out for Jesus. Jesus said, “She has done a beautiful thing to me” Aye, and that’s what she got right. Whenever we express love to God, it’s not a waste. To God, that’s a beautiful thing – even if it seems like a crazy, wasteful thing to others. We know that it’s sad if a man maximizes his career, but does so at the expense of missing out on relationships with his family. Similarly, it’s sad if we maximize other blessings in our life yet miss out on loving God. The best thing we can possibly do in this life is to love is God with our full self, with all of our heart and mind and soul and strength, just as he loved us completely by sending Jesus to die on the cross for us.
So for those of us here who are Christian, I want to challenge you to live up to your highest potential: to love the Lord your God. We don’t have alabaster jars around here anymore, but we can still love God with what we do have. We can think through ways that would honor him today: whether it’s being patient with someone with whom we’d rather not be patient with, whether it’s being a friend to someone who seems lonely, whether it’s praying for our friends or families, whether it’s confessing a particular sin and asking for prayer, whether it’s reading the Bible and treasuring God’s words in your heart or singing hymns. There are many ways that we can express our total love for God, and God will see that and call it beautiful.
And for those of us here who are not Christian, please consider that our sins are real and they are ugly, but we don’t need to be afraid, because God loves you and He loves me. He loves us so much that he was willing to take on all of our sin and give us His best through sending Jesus to die on the cross. We need only to confess our sins and ask Jesus to forgive us, and he will unhesitatingly pour out his love into our hearts. If that is your prayer today, do you mind raising your hand? One of us will come and pray with you.