I was sitting in a restaurant with a group of people awhile back, and as soon as we were seated, everyone started looking at their phones. So I sent this text to everyone at the table: “Be here now.”
Isn’t technology supposed to make our lives more productive? Yet we can sit in front of a computer and spend hours surfing the Web or tweeting or emailing or whatever else we do. Instead of helping us become more productive, technology can help us waste a lot of time.
It isn’t a good thing to waste time, but it is much worse to waste a life.
There was a woman in Jesus’ day who was accused of great waste. But interestingly, that accusation was made by a man whose life was a complete waste. So things are not always as they appear.
By this time, things were clearly coming to a head in the ministry of Jesus. He had had a lot of confrontations with the religious leaders. It was evident that they wanted him dead, plain and simple. The problem was that Jerusalem was swarming with visitors for Passover, so they couldn’t risk an arrest. Jesus knew things were coming to a great climax. He knew he was headed to the cross. He spoke of it frequently. But He thought he would just spend an evening with some close friends. He went over to the home of a man known as Simon, whom Jesus had healed of leprosy.
Also attending this dinner party at Simon’s house was the newly resurrected Lazarus. That must have been a lively conversation. Imagine a group of people sitting around Lazarus, firing off questions one after another. What was it like? What did you see on the other side? Do you wish you could have stayed there instead of having to come back again? Are you really depressed about the fact that you will have to die twice? Once is bad enough.
Then there was a woman identified as Mary, the one of Mary and Martha fame. As Mary watched everything that was going on, she saw something that no one else did. She thought deeply. She had an insight that everyone else seemed to miss. She understood that Jesus was in the last hours of his life. And in her mind, this unique understanding produced a response.
So she grabbed an alabaster flask of very costly, fragrant oil and poured it on Jesus’ head as he sat at the table. In that culture, this flask of fragrant oil was a highly valued item, probably a family heirloom. It was worth a lot of money, but Mary didn’t care about that. She wanted to show her devotion and her love to Jesus. And it was something that made a great impression on him.
Meanwhile, Judas Iscariot, with first-century calculator in hand, calculated the so-called waste and determined the value of this special perfume, which was around $25,000 to $35,000. A man who knew the price of everything and the value of nothing, Judas Iscariot saw it as money down the drain. But Mary didn’t see it that way.
A lot of people today are like Judas. They don’t understand the concept of giving everything over to God. They might not verbalize it, but they will at least think it: What is the least I can do and still technically be a Christian? Or, to frame the question another way, How much can I get away with and still technically be saved?
I have had people ask me that question in various forms over the years many times. But that is the wrong question to be asking. This type of person will read the Bible – if they find time in their busy schedule. They will pray – if it occurs to them. When the offering is received in church, they might give something – if there is some spare change in their pocket. The fact is they would give more to a waitress than they would to the work of the Lord. Their philosophy is all things in moderation, and they will be critical of those who go further in their devotion to Christ than they do.
Mary wasn’t like that. She pulled out all the stops and went for it.
Jesus loved this, and he defended Mary’s actions, saying, “Let her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a good work for Me. … She has done what she could. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for 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.” (Mark 14:6, 8–9 NKJV).
In other words, Jesus was saying, “I want the whole world to hear about what this woman did. I want this duly noted. I want this on public record.” And here we are, 2,000 years later, still talking about it because it was such a significant thing.
Did Mary deliver a great sermon? No. Did she pray an incredible prayer of faith? No. What she did was give the most precious thing she owned to Jesus. The value was in what it cost her. As David said, “I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” (1 Samuel 24:24 NIV).
Maybe Mary’s gift wasn’t the most practical, but it was heartfelt. Judas didn’t care about the poor. Greed and selfishness are what motivated him on this day. I have found that those who are so quick to challenge the motives of someone else are usually guilty of something far worse. They project their sin on the person they are accusing when, in reality, they are the ones with the problem. I have found that the ones who complain the most do the least, and those who complain the least usually do the most.
Could you look back on your life today and say, “No regrets”? I think all of us could look back at our lives with some measure of regret. I think all of us would say there are things we should not have done or things we should have done more of. We can’t change the past, but we can decide what we are going to do in the present and how we are going to live in the future.
What can you do from this day forward? A life is wasted when it is spent on selfish ambition. Let’s follow the example of Mary and do what we can.