Noble, Not Wasteful
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 26:9 (Holman) “This might have been sold for a great deal and
given to the poor.”
We can’t know for sure what motivated the disciples to say this. Were they truly worried about the poor? Did they fear they would individually be financial losers due to money being taken from the group’s treasury?
One thing is sure; always beware the Judas ever lurking in our heart. He was the group treasurer, and would steal from their moneybag (JN 12:6).
Their complaint is interesting to try to analyze. For starters, Jesus Himself was poor; thus the gift actually was being given to the poor.
Their outburst indicted the lady of wrongdoing. By claiming she was robbing from the poor, they in essence were saying she was sinning.
The Twelve remind us; critics are not always better than the ones they criticize. The one speaking certainly has an advantage over the one being spoken about. Be slow to judge the absent party. “The first to state his case seems right until another comes and cross-examines him” (Proverbs 18:17).
Matt. 26:10-11 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you
bothering this woman? She has done a noble thing for Me. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
Jesus and the lady could feel the anger of the Twelve. He was not deaf. He had heard their self-righteous storm of protest. He knew they were deeming Him an accomplice to this outrage. Why did He let this happen?
They should have looked at Jesus’ face before deciding whether this was a good gift or not. One glance at Him would have told them the most important person in the room was looking at the lady without disapproval.
Their contentious outburst was built on two fallacious premises. One, they missed the connection between giving to Jesus and giving to the poor.
They wrongly felt the two were mutually exclusive. The poor never lose due to generosity to Jesus. No one gives less to the poor due to loving Jesus more. People who give to Jesus tend to give more to the poor than those who don’t. Anyone whose heart is open to Jesus will care for the poor.
Jesus is by far the best thing that ever happened to the poor. Giving to Jesus and to His Kingdom-work promotes the impetus, the driving piston, which makes it culturally acceptable to help the poor. Jesus lifted their station by teaching others the poor have dignity and value in His eyes.
When Jesus commanded us to love God and others, He was not giving two mutually exclusive requirements. We are to honor God, and help others, with equal fervor. Doing either does not negate our need to do the other.
We do both eagerly. In giving to Jesus our hearts are expanded to give more to the poor. In helping the poor we know we lovingly serve Jesus.
Jesus here reminded us we would always have ample opportunity to do both. He referenced Deuteronomy 15:11, “There will never cease to be poor people in the land; that is why I am commanding you, ‘You must willingly open your hand to your afflicted and poor brother in your land.’”
Poverty’s ongoing existence does not excuse ignoring the poor. It rather ever gives us a chance to act like Jesus, to show self-denial and love.
The Twelve’s second fallacious assumption was; they wrongly estimated the purpose and value of possessions. They said, “Waste!” Jesus said, “Noble.” What they deemed useless waste, Jesus deemed useful.
By rebuking them, Jesus reminded us; not everything we do in loving Him has to be practical. We tend to figure out details and work through all kinds of options. We are sometimes too cranial. Live occasionally from the heart. There is no waste in anything that honors God and/or helps the poor.
God may view as abundant love what we view as imprudent giving. A gift is most consequential when it includes sacrifice, which in the context of this story means when it can be said to include an element of waste. The sacrifice inserted in the gift increases its value, making it more appreciated.
In the final analysis, we must come face to face with the stark choice; which is more wasted; what we spend on Him or on us? Before the Great Depression a wealthy Texas businessman paid to build several buildings on Baptist college campuses. He later lost his wealth in the stock market crash.
One day he was walking with a friend past a building that bore his name. The friend remarked, “I guess you wish you had the money back you gave to build this building.” The now-poor businessman immediately replied, “Oh no! What I gave away is all I still have. What I kept, I lost.”
I fear we USA Christians, having long lived in a soft low-risk atmosphere, too often have amnesia when it comes to remembering our “wasteful” legacy. Our best forbears include a seemingly infinite number who so sacrificed to carry out the Great Commission that most of us would look at their lives and say, “Why this waste?”
In 1935 John and Betty Stam, in their twenties, laid down their lives as missionaries in China. Why this waste? Their martyrdom sent scores to the mission field.
I will never forget reading the biography of Bill Wallace. I already knew he died a martyr’s death in China after the Communist takeover, but I was totally unprepared for the book. As I read it, I grew very fond of this gentle, brilliant medical doctor who fell totally in love with the Chinese.
As the Communists began brutalizing him in prison, and beat him into unconsciousness, I was appalled. Nearing the end of the book, knowing the moment of death was near, I fell off the couch at the parsonage of First Baptist St. John. Lying on the floor I read the account of his death. Why this waste? Was it a waste? My life was totally rededicated to God due to it.
In 1956 the world was mesmerized by a Life Magazine front page feature on Auca Indians in Ecuador killing five missionaries: Jim Elliot, Pete Fleming, Ed McCully, Nate Saint, and Roger Youderian. The world collectively grieved with their widows and children. I’m sure some thought, “Why this waste?” But their death sent hundreds of missionaries to the field.
In the early years of Africa missions, missionary graves outnumbered converts. Most Western believers were baffled at the staggering number of missionary deaths in Africa—“Why this waste?”—but some understood. In those hard days, Spurgeon foretold, “By heroic sacrifice the foundation of the African church should be laid.” Livingstone also believed the rigors of his day were a prelude to a huge harvest of souls in Africa. Both were right. If they could see Africa now! “Why this waste?” Africa began the twentieth century with four million believers, and ended it with four hundred million.
Many missionaries have launched out for the cross, only to find a shore to die on. Disease has wiped out thousands, cruelty has killed hundreds. The record of “Go” is written in blood. Many have died that missions might live. We may wonder why God allows it, but submit to Him. This we know—“Why this waste?”—God lets no consecrated life be wasted.
Spurgeon once grieved especially over a young man he had nurtured for three years, preparing him for the mission field. The “beloved Hartley” left, landed, and died. Out of his sadness Spurgeon drew this conclusion, “Surely the Lord means to make further use of him; if He did not make him a preacher to the natives, He must intend that he should preach to us.”
Of every fallen missionary, it can be said, “They being dead yet speak.” Dying without regret in the cause, they challenge us to follow.
They went forth, looking forward to unbelievers; they went down, looking backward to believers. Their deaths are heroic fingers pointing onward. They fell, assuming others were coming behind them.
Can we pray to the point of being considered wasteful by some? Can we give and go till some might think we are wasting our time and resources?