The Bible Insights Weekly e-letter is freely available upon request.

Yes! Please Subscribe Me

Bible Insights Weekly

Enrich your spiritual thinking.

UCGia Bible Insights Thursday, April 11 2024

The broken bottle heard around the world

Near the end of His ministry, just before His crucifixion, Jesus Christ surprised His disciples by praising what seemed to them to be a wasteful act. The story can be found in Matthew 26:6-13, one of the three Gospel accounts that record this memorable incident.

At a dinner at Simon the leper's house, Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus—the Lazarus whom Christ had recently raised from the dead— did a surprising, extravagant, and seemingly foolish thing. "And when Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, a woman came to Him having an alabaster flask of very costly fragrant oil, and she poured it on His head as He sat at the table" (Matthew 26:6-7).

The parallel scriptures in Mark 14 and John 12 tell us the oil wasn't just poured on His head, but also on His feet. We don't normally think of honoring someone this way, but the NIV Bible Commentary pointed out that in those days, "A distinguished rabbi might have been so honored."

Matthew writes that, "...when His disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, 'Why this waste? For this fragrant oil might have been sold for much and given to the poor'" (Matthew 26:8-9). All the disciples were saying this, but John 12:4 makes it clear that the leading voice was Judas Iscariot, who carried the money box and who would eventually steal from it. Mark 14:5 says the oil was worth more than 300 denarii—a year's wages for a laborer.

The disciples thought they were right to rebuke Mary and that Jesus would support them. After all, hadn't He emphasized the importance of serving the poor, and a year's wages could be put to better use that being poured out and wasted. But surprisingly, Christ didn't agree, saying to them, 'Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a good work for Me ... .For in pouring this fragrant oil on My body, she did it for My burial…. Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her'" (Matthew 26:10-13).

Although Christ had become more explicit about His impending sacrifice, it seems His disciples still did not "get it." They expected the promised Messiah—the conquering King prophesied in the Old Testament—to behave differently. For Judas Iscariot, Mary’s action was the last straw, and he soon set out to betray his friend and master for just 30 pieces of silver. Many experts believe that these silver coins were tetradrachmas, worth four denarii. If this is true, Judas received 120 denarii, or less than half of what the perfume had cost.

Why did Mary do this, and why did Christ say it would be used as an example throughout the world? The lesson here certainly was not that the poor weren't important, or that waste is OK. The story makes us reexamine what is truly important. The incident took place not long after Mary’s brother Lazarus had been raised from the dead, and it seems Mary was beginning to understand Christ was willing to die for us to give us eternal life. She had come to understand and believe Jesus was the Christ, her Creator and Ruler,

Halley's Bible Handbook puts it this way on page 544: "Jesus probably had spoken of his coming Crucifixion. Mary, kind hearted, compassionate, thoughtful, lovely Mary, perhaps noticing a look of pain in his eyes, said to herself, 'This is no parable. He means it.' And she went and got the rarest treasure of her household, and poured it on his head and feet, and wiped them with her hair. Perhaps not a word was said. But he understood. He knew that she was trying to tell him how her heart ached."

Mary's example reminds us that God deserves our very best. We are called to be living sacrifices (Romans 12:1), to put God first in every aspect of our lives. We should, of course, use balance and wisdom and remember the poor, but we should also remember Mary, and her example that Christ said would be preached throughout the world. She set the example of giving the best she had for her Master and Savior—and ours.