When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”
Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” (verses 8-13)
I have often heard people speak of a “scarcity mentality.” That’s what this woman’s critics are evidencing here. They consider that the spilled perfume is a significant portion of a very limited resource that has now been expended on something as frivolous as anointing Jesus’ head. “Think of all those poor, hungry souls who will now be perpetually impoverished because of this waste! What was the woman thinking? And how could Jesus receive it gladly? Where’s his sense of proportion and priority?”
There’s a deep sense of hypocrisy in this griping. Although John, in his Gospel, focuses attention on Judas Iscariot as the one who raises the criticism of this woman, Matthew tells us that the griping actually comes from all the disciples together. Jesus reveals their hypocrisy by saying, “The poor you will always have with you.” In other words, “Why haven’t you done something already? Why aren’t you doing it now? Nothing’s stopping you.” Their sudden concern for the poor is a sham. They’re simply offended by the woman’s extravagant act and they justify their offense by citing the poor.
But even if hypocritically asked, what about the disciples’ question? Don’t they have a point? John tells us that the woman is actually Mary, sister of Lazarus and Martha (John 12:3). Isn’t her action wasteful, out of sync with the reality of need surrounding her? Shouldn’t she have used this perfume differently?
This is where a “scarcity mentality” skews the equation. After all, the One Mary honours is the One who owns the cattle on a thousand hills. The earth is his, in all its wonder and totality. Indeed, he is the One who, with a word, out of nothing, called it all into being. There is no sense of scarcity when we’re dealing with the King of kings and Lord of lords! If the poor are always with us, so is he, with resources available, without measure, if we will simply choose to combine them with our own commitment to sacrifice – a commitment like Mary’s, a commitment like the poor widow’s in the temple (Mark 12:41-44).
Ultimately, the griping question of the disciples’ misses the point. Where is their own sense of proportion and priority? The Lord of all creation is right in their midst, and they’ve missed the opportunity on this occasion to honour and bless him. Mary didn’t. She seized the moment. In so doing, beyond her own understanding, she prophetically anointed the Lord for burial, anticipating the cross, highlighting the expanse of his own lavish sacrifice – a sacrifice poured out on us.
Lord Jesus, I choose to follow Mary’s lead this day and honour you with the resources you have entrusted into my hands. With heart and hands and voice, with wallet and time, I choose to worship you. Lead me by your Spirit. I look to you, my Lord.
Reflect: In what tangible way can you honour the Lord this day with your own resources (energies, time, money, gifts)? Offer it up. Honour him well.