What is the Point of This Waste?
By Brian Thompson
A Lesson in Giving (Mary anoints the feet of Jesus at Bethany – Matthew 26:6-13)
This is one of those defining moments, on Tuesday evening of Passion Week, when the human and the divine perspective are at opposite ends of the spectrum. For Jesus this was an event of immense value. For everyone else it was an act totally without merit. And in the middle – as happens – the person whose actions found so little merit in the eyes of Christ’s followers, found grace in the eyes of the Lord.
But how could Jesus’ friends get it so wrong?
1) They measured by price, not by value.
They looked at what was so unreservedly thrown away and assessed its street value. At its practical usefulness, at what it could be turned into, what it could become. They never considered the immense weight of worth in the longing to give.
2) They missed the point of sacrifice.
It is only sacrifice to God if it is lost to us. Whatever value we retain diminishes the purity of the sacrifice. The part that we hold on to costs us more than the part we have let go.
3) They underestimated what it meant to minister to Christ personally.
They thought of the work, the service, and the ministry to others. These were commendable things but there was only one person there who saw that Jesus needed ministry.
4) They missed the element of prophecy.
Just because this was one act in one moment of time did not mean that when the act ended the story ended. This was for the future, not just for the present. Jesus declared that this was ‘for my burial’ and as this act of spontaneous giving took place, so the shadow of the future fell across the present – lightened for a moment by an act without reservation and without restraint.
5) They forgot that love lives on in the gift.
Sacrifice is a paradox. It both dies and lives. It dies as it leaves our hands, our control, our ownership. It lives on in what it means to God. Sacrifice releases what is given from the petty restrictions of the temporary and self-serving, and binds it to the undying and the eternal.
6) They thought it ended here.
That because the box was empty, this meant there was nothing left. That is because there was no more to give, then it was all over. They were wrong, for it had only just begun. We are told that the potency of this costly and pure aroma would betray its presence for weeks afterwards. It was there when Jesus sat at the table with His friends for the last time, and as he stood betrayed in the garden. It was there in the corrupt courtroom when a cynical Pilate passed down an unjust sentence with practiced ease. It clung to him when Roman soldiers beat Him and led Him out to die. Even when He hung between hilltop and skyline, bloodied and breathless, still the fragrance could be detected. At the scene of the execution no one had time to tender the last courtesies to the bodies of those who died so violently. But love has its own prescience and all unknowing, this woman’s act meant that though sorely abused before dying, Christ’s body was anointed for burial. At the end, even in the stone cold grave you could still
smell the fragrance of a costly gift, lovingly given.
Devotion makes its own rules. It takes scant notice of appearances. It does not measure by what is ‘appropriate’. It is the compulsion to give, which is the overriding factor, not how others feel about it. It has an unerring instinct for what matters most and to whom. And it is unashamed that in giving so openly, so completely, it is betraying what it feels, because it is utterly preoccupied with the loved one.
It matters that we minister to Christ. To Him, and not to his cause. Among the myriad worthy requests, the call on our mercy, the claim on our compassion, let us not be guilty of being so focused on ‘meeting the need’ that we lose sight of the value of ministering to Christ himself. It is all about Him after all. If we are embarrassed by the extravagant expression, if we are uncomfortable in the presence of unrestrained affection, perhaps it is because we have never been ruined, and then redeemed. If we have, then we should know that you cannot measure a gift by what it does but by why it is given. And that nothing so unreservedly thrown away can ever be wasted.
Brian Thompson lives in the United Kingdom and is one of FaithWriters'
English "cousins". He is married to Vi, a teacher, and has three grown up
children. When Brian isn't writing, he works as an Independent Financial
Adviser. You can contact Brian through the Letters page of this magazine.
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