Mark 14:4b – Why this waste …? (NIV)
This is a wise question — especially in view of today's wastefulness. Questioning needless waste is reasonable! But apparently, it wasn't one day when at a dinner party a woman poured an entire pint of perfume on Jesus. It was worth a year's income! To her observers, there was surely a more economical use for the precious substance! Surely a dab would have sufficed — or a gram — but an entire pint — of perfume?! Imagine that scene: the overwhelming fragrance mingled with a tense anxiety exuded by the guests! She certainly caused a stir! Yet, when this woman was hassled for her behaviour, Jesus came to her defence.
Mark 14:6 – "Leave her alone!" said Jesus. "Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me." (NIV)
Let's stop right there and deal with Jesus' preposterous unreasonableness — or is it our own unreasonableness, our own distorted economic sense? Are there times to refrain from questioning obvious wastefulness because it delights our Lord? This woman can enlighten us.
In Luke's account, the woman's over-the-top, extravagant waste is interpreted by Jesus as an expression of love: a heartfelt gratitude for forgiveness. In contrast, the host had shown little love for Jesus. Jesus pointed that out to him, and said, "He who has been forgiven little loves little". (Luke 7:47b, NIV) Although he was a religious leader, this host knew little of forgiveness for himself. That's why he saw little value in the woman's offering.
The perfume might have been a family inheritance or a symbol of status and security. Regardless, in pouring it out, she essentially spilled whatever dream the perfume might have fulfilled for her. She reminds me of those who spill away promising careers or economic security to serve Christ.
Perhaps the "precious" thing that you and I spill out is our pride. Or maybe it's the approval and praise of others. When we experience joy in Christ, misunderstandings no longer trouble us. Consider the woman. Did she care about being misunderstood? Did she even notice? Not likely. What blessed freedom! She was the happiest woman at the party!
Perhaps we spill away our dream for justice towards an offender. We leave that with God, and instead, we extend undeserved kindness. Onlookers may consider this absurd. Any "dab" of goodness towards an offender will seem like an unreasonable waste — until these skeptics come to see themselves as sinners and experience Christ's exhilarating, undeserved forgiveness.
Forgiveness may be the most extravagant waste we ever commit. But to Jesus, it is "a beautiful thing". Its fragrance spills into a world which clings to offences and prefers retribution. Forgiveness is considered a foolish waste. Most would rather keep the lid shut tightly and save it for a "reasonable" use.
Some literally pour out their lives and die for Christ. Their family and peers view their conversion as a foolish waste. Yet Jesus says, "They have done a beautiful thing."
For the one who wastes precious "perfume" on Jesus, whether in life or death, the loss is immaterial and the gain is immeasurable. Like the woman at Jesus' feet, they have welcomed Him for Who He is — and are convinced that no amount of "perfume" is greater than the gain.
The question is not "What must I give up for Jesus?" but rather "How deeply do I know Christ's forgiveness for myself?" That will determine what I "waste" on Jesus.
Prayer: Lord, show us where we keep the lid tightly shut. Free our hearts to grasp, in ever-increasing measure, Your liberal love — Your forgiving and saving love — that we, in response, may pour ourselves liberally at Your feet. Amen.
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