Summary: How extravagantly do we give? Do we give God our best or our leftovers? Let’s look at Mary’s anointing of Jesus in John 12:1-8.
One of the greatest secrets of the universe is in Jesus’ words, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ (Acts 20:35) It’s a simple gauge as to how blessed we are. Are we generous? How extravagantly do we give? Do we give God our best or our leftovers? Let’s look at Mary’s anointing of Jesus in John 12:1-8.
John 12:1-2 Jesus, therefore, six days before the Passover, came to Bethany where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they made Him a supper there, and Martha was serving; but Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with Him.
This is six days before the cross, and Jesus naturally turned to some of His dearest friends, Lazarus, Martha and Mary. There is a contrast between two ladies who loved to give and Judas who loved to take.
John 12:3 Mary then took a pound of very costly perfume of pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
Have you ever lightened the burden of having so many physical trappings? What is sitting around our lives that we could willingly and joyfully give away? Mary was naturally very thankful to Jesus for restoring the life of her brother Lazarus. Her lavish giving is a measure of her gratitude.
Mary’s perfume in a very expensive alabaster vase, was about a litra, a Roman pound, around 12 oz, worth about 300 denarius, 300 day’s wages, a year’s income. Spikenard or nard was imported from the slopes of the Himalayas, a long, long way. How extravagant is our giving to Jesus?
Beautiful church buildings are a testimony to the generosity of people who love God. London’s Westminster Cathedral, Cologne’s Cathedral, Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia, Moscow’s St Basil’s Cathedral and the Salzburg Cathedral are treasures. Should they be sold to give to the poor? What about Mary anointing Jesus with outrageously expensive perfume?
John 12:4-6 But Judas Iscariot, one of His disciples, who was intending to betray Him, said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to poor people?” Now he said this, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it.
Judas Iscariot did not truly love Jesus. He feigned caring for the poor but had stolen money from the cash box. Many Christians do not believe in tithing, because it is Old Testament, but Malachi calls not tithing stealing, and God promises to pour out a blessing until it overflows.
Some are offended that it takes money to run a church. Others give generously because they are not obsessed by money. In the Old Testament, God demanded the firstborn of the flocks, and the first fruits of the fruit trees. He wants the best we have not our second best.
Do we believe we are giving to a club or organization of mere human beings or to Jesus? Giving is a measure of our values, a measure of our love. Do we love things more than God? Do we see the blessing that comes when we get rid of clutter?
John 12:7-8 Therefore Jesus said, “Let her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of My burial. For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me.”
The dead were often anointed with perfume to cover the smell of death. Jesus encouraged Mary to keep it for his burial rather than sell it and give the money to the poor. Giving to the poor is a good work and encouraged, but burying our dead also costs money.
One week I asked a waitress what the Sunday after-church crowd was like. She replied frankly that it was the worst crowd of the week. They were demanding and rude and gave lousy tips. From that time on I determined to give wait staff generous tips and treat them kindly.
There is no command here for us to give extravagantly, but there is permission and encouragement. The one who criticized this extravagant generosity was a thief. Most of us are not thieves, but maybe not extravagantly generous. May we all learn to be a little more like Mary.
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