First Things First

alabaster-jar


Devotional for Monday of Holy Week (April 6)

Note: An online prayer room will be available this evening at 6 p.m. Go to https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/607049869 to join, or dial in at (646) 749-3122, and then use this access code: 607-049-869.

John 12:1-11 (NLT)

Six days before the Passover celebration began, Jesus arrived in Bethany, the home of Lazarus—the man he had raised from the dead. A dinner was prepared in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, and Lazarus was among those who ate with him. Then Mary took a twelve-ounce jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard, and she anointed Jesus’ feet with it, wiping his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance.

But Judas Iscariot, the disciple who would soon betray him, said, “That perfume was worth a year’s wages. It should have been sold and the money given to the poor.” Not that he cared for the poor—he was a thief, and since he was in charge of the disciples’ money, he often stole some for himself.

Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. She did this in preparation for my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

When all the people heard of Jesus’ arrival, they flocked to see him and also to see Lazarus, the man Jesus had raised from the dead. Then the leading priests decided to kill Lazarus, too, for it was because of him that many of the people had deserted them and believed in Jesus.


Yes, we are to care for the poor. Yes, we are to do all sorts of good works. We should commit a significant portion of our resources to the work Jesus calls us to do, caring for people living on the edge of ruin and death.

In this story, however, is a remarkable idea, one that even some very good-hearted people might find confusing. Honoring Jesus Christ takes precedence over all other motivations and actions.

The story of Mary anointing Jesus is a story of extravagant thanks. Jesus had recently restored to life the brother of Mary and Martha, after Lazarus had decomposed in a tomb for four days.

Mary took what was probably her life savings, her security, and used it all at once to honor the one who had granted this miracle. The stench of death had been the sisters’ great fear; now, a perfumed declaration of joy filled the room, emanating from the one who had driven death away. If you’ve never smelled spikenard, know that it is sweet and musky, an earthy, lively odor. Try to imagine peat from the Garden of Eden.

Even though Judas’ motivation likely was theft, some people might agree with his stated objection—the pouring out of all that nard in one place seems like an awful waste! These would be people who take a humanist approach to solving the problems of the world, saying if people would just act right and do enough good, with enough efficiency, most of the problems of the world would go away.

Christians see that as a cart-before-horse assertion, however. God is our motivator. God provides the power. In John 17:20-26, we hear Jesus root his relationship in the Father, and then Jesus prays that we will be similarly rooted in the Father and Son.

Even altruistic actions properly begin with an understanding of who we are in relation to God. If we are to develop that relationship, we need to stop occasionally and give extravagant and even inefficient thanks. Then, rightly motivated, we will see God pour grace into us until it spills out of our church and onto the world.

In fact, grace can arrive in such abundance that efficiency becomes at most a side issue. Remember the stories of Jesus feeding the multitudes? All those leftovers indicate efficiency was not something the disciples needed during the distribution.

Great works will happen through churches that put Christ first. We hold on to God, the anchor of all altruism, and then we are able to pull back from the brink people living on the edge of ruin and death.

Lord, we offer thanks for who you are, and we consider in our hearts what we might do today to show extravagant thanks. May we revel in the inefficiency of it all. Amen.

 

One thought on “First Things First

  1. My mind has come back to this scripture several times this week. I ponder whether I would have been among those who would have thought that pouring the whole bottle of nard over Jesus was much too extravagant, especially when you pointed out it was probably Mary’s life savings. But rereading the reply of Jesus together with your interpretation that “honoring Jesus Christ takes precedence over all other motivations and action” is causing me to deeply re-evaluate my thinking and action.

    Like

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