How important are giving to the poor and giving to the church?
Let’s discuss giving and discover what priority Jesus taught.
Let’s look at John 12:1-8 and see what we can learn about Mary’s anointing of Jesus with very expensive muskroot oil.
John 12:1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 3 Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 5 “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” 6 He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. 7 “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. 8 You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”
Church buildings are among the most beautiful structures on earth, a testimony to Christians who loved God so much they gave their worldly goods to build in his honor. They built Paris’ Sacre-Coeur and Notre Dame, London’s Westminster Cathedral and Saint Paul’s, Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Cologne’s Cathedral, the Cathedral of the Annunciation, Brazil’s Cathedral of Brasilia, Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia, Moscow’s St Basil’s Cathedral, Rome’s Sistine Chapel, France’s Mont St Michel, the Sagrada Familia, the Palma de Mallorca, and the Salzburg Cathedral to name just a few. Most of these churches contain priceless treasures that have been donated over centuries. Should they be sold to give to the poor? What about Mary anointing Jesus with outrageously expensive perfume?
After the story of a reckless son and a father’s fabulous forgiveness let’s look at extravagant giving. Mary was the sister of Lazarus, whom Jesus had brought back to life and naturally was very grateful. How grateful is measured by her lavish giving. Notice what she gave! The perfume was contained in an alabaster box, an expensive stone vase. The amount used was about a litra, a Roman pound of around 12 oz. It was worth about 300 denarius, perhaps 300 day’s wages, a year’s income. Why so valuable? In those days spikenard or nard was only found on the slopes of the Himalaya’s and had to be imported a long, long way. How extravagant is our giving to Jesus?
What is a Rich Person’s Role in the Church?
Is a wealthy person’s role in the church to be a bully? As of this writing 16 ounces of spikenard essential oil from bulkapothecary.com was advertised at $609.08. A Roman pound was about 12 ounces. So that may be about $456.81 and still an expensive offering at today’s prices. In ancient times the transportation cost from the Himalayas would have been very expensive indeed and Judas gave a price of about 300 denarii or 300 times a worker’s day’s wage. At time of writing, the US federal minimum wage is $7.25 times 8 hours times 300 days equals $17,400. Quite the opposite of a bully, Mary humbly got on her knees and extravagantly served Jesus.
A family wanted to donate their old furniture to a church and was offended when the church turned them down. Have you ever wondered about the treasures in churches? Should they be sold and the money given to the poor? Jesus’ opinion on the topic may be interesting. Mary’s anointing of him was an over-the-top expensive act. Ought we give Jesus second best? In the Old Testament’s worship, God expected people to give their best animals and best produce. Next time we visit a beautiful church with lavish treasures let’s think of the extravagant faith of the givers. Do we believe we are giving to a club or organization of mere human beings or the Church of the living God?
Let’s understand that there is no command here for us to give so extravagantly, but there is permission. If someone has it in their heart to give a wonderful gift to Jesus instead of to the poor, they have his permission. Let’s remember that the one who criticized this gift was a thief. In life some are thieves and some are very generous. Most of us are somewhere in between, we are not thieves, but maybe not so generous. May we all learn to be a little more like Mary.