With the close of Matthew 25, Jesus has completed His fifth and final block of instruction to the disciples. In chapter 26, the events Jesus has long predicted begin to unfold. As He said would happen, Jesus is “delivered over to the chief priests and scribes” and Matthew’s narrative moves toward its peak. Chapter 25 described Jesus in glory (verse 31); chapters 26–28 show Jesus suffering and humiliated, but ultimately restored to life and authority.
Now within this chapter is a beautiful moment between Jesus and a woman named Mary. This woman is identified in John 12:3 as Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus. In this moment as Jesus and His disciples are resting, about to enjoy a meal, Mary makes a decision, and it’s a decision that would make an impact on Jesus, herself, and the disciples.
As Jesus sits reclining at the table, Mary walks in with a costly bottle of oil in an alabaster jar. Breaking the jar’s neck, she poured all the oil on Jesus’ head and the beautiful fragrance began to fill the room. At this moment, the disciples began to complain: "Why would you waste this?" Now for people like you and me you’re probably thinking, “What’s the big deal, it’s just perfume right?"
Actually what Mary doused over Jesus’s head was extremely valuable, equivalent to a year's salary! In this bottle that she just emptied was “Pure nard” (that’s a fun word). Nard was a perfume oil used for solemn acts of devotion. More common household oils were used to anoint guests, for medicine, and for other purposes. But at this moment Mary decides to find the most costly thing in the house with which to greet her savior.
I honestly feel a little bad for the disciples here. Their motives aren’t necessarily wrong. They’re just being practical. They’re thinking of all the Kingdom work that could have been done with the money they could have gotten if they had sold it. It’s not like they’re wanting to sell it and squander it or use it for unnecessary things.
Side note: There is an interesting contrast in this moment with Mary and Judas. You see in John’s version of this story Mary sits at Jesus’ feet in adoring love, offering extravagant devotion—anointing Him for His burial. Judas sits with condescending arrogance, not only questioning Mary’s action but judging Jesus’ willingness to accept such a gift. One is a worshiper; one is a thief. One gives sacrificial honor; the other seeks personal gain (Matt. 26:15). One demonstrates the way of grace; the other, the way of sin.
So I guess we could say MOST of their motives were right. ;) So for the majority, they wanted to make an impact right!?
You see, the disciples’ “poor theology,” if you will, is poor because they have put their vertical relationship with Jesus as Lord on the same level as their horizontal relationship with others. Their mistake is natural, especially in view of Jesus’ parable about loving the least being equal to loving Him. But it’s still a slight mistake. It’s the same mistake Martha once made—In some ways this is the story of Mary and Martha, which can be found in Luke 10 and John 12, revisited. And once again Mary shows the better way.
The better way is not to put off serving people. The better way is not to put off feeding the hungry. The better way is simply believing and demonstrating that Jesus deserves the highest outpouring of your love. Jesus taught a social gospel (love your neighbor, help the poor), but His social gospel is also the gospel of the Son of Man, in which our glorifying Jesus always comes first, above everything else.
If I can be a little transparent in this moment. I can relate to the disciples. In the context of working in “Ministry,” you can very easily have the perspective of the disciples. Put it in the context of a Sunday morning. There are so many things to plan and prepare for. We have to make sure the order of service is done, the announcements are ready, the lights, the sound, and our amazing dream teams are equipped and ready, and the list goes on and on. There’s a lot to do, but the work can’t become the worship. What do I mean… the work of the Ministry can’t take the place of the one we worship!
My prayer can be simplified with this song from Cody Carnes:
"Caught up in Your presence.
I just want to sit here at Your feet.
Caught up in this holy moment, I never want to leave.
I’m not here for blessings.
Jesus You don’t owe me anything.
More than anything that You can do, I just want You!"
In a hustle culture, let's be more like Mary. Let our worship cost something. Let it be extravagant! Let not the things of this world distract us from giving everything we can to pour our love on the One who loved us first!