Our theme in the “Jesus is …” series we’ve been hearing through Mark’s gospel is “Jesus is …. worth it!” Well, when I read today’s reading, the verse that came to my mind was actually one from Matthew’s gospel, chapter 6, verse 21: ”For where you treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Although, to line it up co correctly with today’s reading it might better be put: “Where your treasure is shows where your heart truly is”. But I think you understand the point!
With this in mind, let’s look at the passage. There is a lot in it, it really is a multi layered passage, but I am going to look at it through the lens of our hearts showing where our treasure, what we value, is. And we’ll see who really thinks Jesus is worth it.
The story centres around Jesus, but there are two main characters reflecting different focuses of worth, the woman with the alabaster jar, and Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus’ disciples. There is a supporting cast as well, but I want to focus particularly on the woman and on Judas.
This story is told in Matthew’s and John’s gospels. In John’s gospel all the characters are identified, but I think there is a better focus in Mark and Matthew’s gospels because we simply see the actions of the woman, there are no further biographical details, which may colour our view of the woman and her actions. We are trying to see the point Mark is making in his telling of the story so we shall leave her nameless. She enters the scene where everyone is sitting at the table, just before, during or just after a meal. In any case, the sitters are usually all men, the only women in the room would be servants. But in walks a woman, with intent, knowing what she wants to do, and going for it, in spite of breaking the social rules. You can imagine the stir! Mark doesn’t record her saying anything, although he notes she is carrying an alabaster jar containing very expensive perfume. Alabaster imported from Egypt, for this is the only place alabaster was found, and expensive perfume, pure nard from the spikenard plant found only in the Himalayas, so from India or Nepal. What value! This was all noted by the men. And what does she do with it? She breaks the jar – that would make it useless for any other perfume, and then pours the nard on Jesus’ head! That broke with convention too, it was a very intimate thing to do, a woman touching a man, but with perfume too! The men’s reaction is summed up by one word in v. 4, indignant! So they bluster among themselves about the waste of good money – a year’s wages, definitely a significant amount – and there could have been a good, public donation of money to the poor to show what good men they were, supporting those not as well off as themselves. And as often happens when someone does something unexpected that challenges someone’s way of thinking, they rebuke the woman!
But Jesus isn’t going to let this pass, he has much greater insight. So he tells the men off for getting at her, and goes on to say she poured perfume on his body beforehand to prepare for his burial. I wonder whatever the men made of that? The disciples who were there could have put two and two together because Jesus had already told them he was going to be crucified – although I wonder if they really understood, let alone believed, the things he’d told them would come to pass.
Basically, Jesus says that what she’s done is worth more in its action than it would have been as the action of offering the money to the poor. I don’t know what they made of that, how could this intruding woman’s waste of good perfume be worth more than an offering to the poor? Complete bafflement I should think, but also concern eating away at them too – Jesus had said that, so it must be true, that it was worth more as an anointing oil than it was a poor offering. How could it be? But the fact was it was true. This woman, who may have looked like she was came from a well-off home, worth a bob or two we might say, still gave Jesus an enormous gift, a year’s wages worth of gift. She was happy to do that, she was intent on doing that. She may not have understood the meaning of the anointing – she didn’t know the future, and she certainly didn’t know about it being preparing his body for burial, she didn’t know her offering had to be made at this time, before the crucifixion – but she knew that she so respected, so worshipped, so loved and so valued this man Jesus that he was worth honouring in this way. And she would have been aware of the value of the gift as an offering too. In v8 we read, “She did what she could.” She may not have understood the full significance of the anointing but she followed her heart, she was obedient to the call to anoint Jesus, regardless of the disruption and criticism she faced. In her eyes, Jesus was definitely worth it.
Well, what of Judas Iscariot, the dramatic foil to the woman in our story? Just two short verses, but what a contrasting picture! He slipped out of the dining room and went off to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them. We read “They were delighted to hear this” and here comes the revealing part, they “promised to give him money”. And Judas watched and waited for his chance to fulfil his part of the bargain. What did Judas value? Money, but not to use to for someone else, certainly not for anointing, nor probably for giving to the poor, although it doesn’t say either of those things, but the assumption was he’d use the bulk of it for himself. Eventually the rest of the disciples found that he’d been skimming some of the money off all the donations given for the work of Jesus and the disciples for his own use. And where did his money come from on this occasion? From the hands of criminals – his money, his treasure was in the hands of unjust people, it showed where his heart was. Judas may have believed, more or less, in what Jesus taught, but it wasn’t what motivated him. He simply didn’t think Jesus was worth what the woman thought he was worth!
And a nod to our Old Testament reading too. Abram who came to be known as Abraham, believed the Lord even though the Lord told him things that would come to pass which seemed like the most cloud-cuckoo land things he could imagine. He believed in the Lord, he was prepared to trust the Lord. And in the most telling verse, we read “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness”. That can seem a complicated verse, but it means that because Abram believed God, it was as if Abram had made a payment into a bank account labelled “Closeness to God”. Of course, there is no money involved, but because Abram believed in God, God would keep abram close to him, and Abram would come to understand hos close that relationship was. In other words, Abram was nother one who valued God enough to trust him and accept what God told him, in spite of any lack of understanding or even misgivings he might have had.
So, our theme is “Jesus is …. worth it!” Is this a true statement for you? Or do you struggle with questions like why do challenging things happen, like the slaughter of the Muslims in Christchurch in New Zealand this week, the suffering of innocent children in the refugee camps in places like Syria and Lebanon? There is nothing wrong with challenges, with questions, it is whether we are determined to continue walking with Jesus whatever challenges we face. In challenging times, we have to decide who’s in charge, is it Jesus or is it some random other force, or the devil even? And if we’ve decided it’s Jesus, in spite of everything, then why do we follow him? I think it is because we’ve found it worth following him. We know what he has done in our lives in the past, how we have been blessed through really hard times, challenging situations. I think I’ve shared with you before about a moment for me when Frank’s cancer was first diagnosed, and we knew he was going to undergo treatment which had significant risks. There was a moment when I knew I could try to do it alone, or I could take God, Jesus, with me through that time. And that’s what both of us did, and thankfully we are celebrating 8 years since diagnosis this month. Now it might not have turned out that way, but we were happy to put our hands into the hand of Jesus and walk with him and the Father, through those times. And we continue to! Christians know salvation comes through Jesus, we know through him we will spend eternity in heaven, with him, with the Father and with our fellow believers. Are we in this together? I hope so. I think Jesus is definitely worth it.