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Friends in Christ Weekly Message
March 16, 2013
Six days before Passover, Jesus entered Bethany where Lazarus, so recently raised from the dead, was living. Lazarus and his sisters invited Jesus to dinner at their home. Martha served. Lazarus was one of those sitting at the table with them. Mary came in with a jar of very expensive aromatic oils, anointed and massaged Jesus' feet, and then wiped them with her hair. The fragrance of the oils filled the house.
Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples, even then getting ready to betray him, said, Why wasn't this oil sold and the money given to the poor? It would have easily brought three hundred silver pieces. He said this not because he cared two cents about the poor but because he was a thief. He was in charge of their common funds, but also embezzled them.
Jesus said, Let her alone. She's anticipating and honoring the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you. You don't always have me.
John 12:1-8 (Message*)
In this story, Judas Iscariot makes an argument that seems to make a lot of sense. He uses the argument because he wants personal gain, but I think we can get a broader meaning from the story.
Oftentimes Christians make arguments based on certain principles which they apply as rules. Unlike Judas, they (perhaps I should say we) are often doing this with legitimate concern to do things the right way. They apply as rules things which in most cases may indeed be the right path forward, but by applying them legalistically they risk occasionally using them in ways that fail to see a broader picture.
In this case, Jesus does not make an argument based upon an improper motive by Judas, which is one reason why the story has such broader application. Rather He recognizes the great love Mary is showing for Him. He does not deny the general principle of using our resources to care for the poor, but rather points to the overarching principle of love which in this case merits not applying the principle enunciated by Judas in a legalistic way.
By His reference to always having the poor with us, I believe Jesus is pointing to the need throughout history for believers to demonstrate God's compassion for the poor and outcast. But he is noting that the path taken by Mary here needs to be honored because of the love shown in a special circumstance. In God's economy, an act of generous love will not mean that we will not have the resources to demonstrate God's love for the poor.
Do we reduce the path of discipleship to a set of rigid rules? Or are we able to so fully incorporate Christ's spirit into our lives that we can discern what is the path of love in each situation, even when it does not seem to follow the rules?
* The Message version ©2002 by Eugene H. Peterson.
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Document last modified on Saturday, 23-Mar-2013 20:24:50 EDT