By Nathan P. Adams
Pastor, Fulford UMC
North Miami Beach, FL
First, read John 12:1-8
One of the ways as a teenager I knew I was “becoming a man” was when I started wearing cologne. After trying several brands, I settled on “Preferred Stock.” I have no idea if the people around me enjoyed it as much as I did, but I sure loved putting on a few sprays before a school dance, band performance, or speech competition.
I can’t remember the last time I wore cologne. However, today’s scripture took me back to high school cologne life lessons. We learn quickly that when it comes to these types of scents, a little goes a long way. Plus, the stuff is expensive!
So, it’s easy to imagine the horror that runs through the mind of those gathered with Jesus for dinner when they see Mary anoint him.
Various translations say that she anoints Jesus’ body with up to a pound of perfume! Imagine your favorite can of soda being filled with perfume or cologne. Now imagine taking that plus around another quarter of a can full of perfume and pouring it on someone! That person is going to smell! Not only that, various translations the verse tell us that this much perfume would have been equal to an average laborer’s annual pay! So of course we might react with the idea that this is wasteful or foolhardy.
However, Jesus doesn’t. He surprises everyone. He sticks up for Mary. He reminds the crowd that they won’t always have him with them and that the poor will always be with them. So, what is Jesus trying to say?
Is Jesus saying be wasteful or don’t help the poor? Likely not. However, perhaps Jesus is challenging our assumptions when it comes to what we “have” or what we possess. We so often get set in our ways as to how what we have, material or otherwise, must be used. It is easy to assume that there is a correct manner to use these resources and an incorrect manner.
Maybe though the true question Jesus is raising isn’t how we use what we have, but why we use it in the way we do.
Mary seems to have pretty clear intentions to use the perfume to honor and anoint Jesus regardless of the value of the perfume. Verse six reveals that Judas really wants to steal some of the profits that might result from the sale of the perfume so he can keep some for himself. He is not motivated for the care of others after all, but simply cares about himself.
Jesus reveals to us that the motivation of how we use what we have matters. We are called not to put strict rules and regulations on their use, but instead to use them for the glory of God and the benefit of God’s kingdom. Mary understands this. Judas, not so much. He is more like the guy who used to sit next to you in homeroom who used just a little too much of his favorite cologne.
Prayer: Dear God, help me not only to be a responsible steward of all that I have, but help me also to be motivated to use it all in ways that honor you and help others discover that indeed you are the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Thank you for all that I have. Amen.
1. What do you have, material or otherwise, and why are you using these resources the way you do?
2. Does the motivation of how we use our resources matter more than how we use them? Why or why not?
3. Do you tend to identify more with Mary’s generosity or Judas’ scarcity?
4. Have you ever used a resource in a way others thought was irresponsible, but that brought joy to others or God?