Sunday, February 6, 2011

"She has done a good deed to Me."

I noticed recently two juxtaposed, and seemingly opposing, passages in Scripture. Matthew 25: 34-46 gives us the King’s judgment on those who either did, or did not, help the needy, hungry, and naked. Matthew 26: 6-13 tells the story of the woman who anointed Jesus at the home of Simon the leper.

The admonition in the first passage is a strong one: when you minister to the suffering and rejected – “to one of these brothers of Mine,” Jesus says – you are actually ministering to Him.  The needy stand in His place. You may have helped a suffering prisoner or homeless person, and not even realized it as an offering to God, but He took it as such. The rewards for such love are huge – you inherit eternity in the New Earth with God. You get a chunk of the kingdom, a possession that can’t be taken away.  He’s been making it just for you, since before this old world was even created. That means God anticipated your kindness to the needy, and prepared your reward ahead of time.

But the punishment for not caring for the needy – those without food, drink, clothing, friends (Ouch, middle school girls. When did you not befriend a new girl? This one’s for you.), the sick, the imprisoned – the punishment is what you would expect for those who had refused to give aid to Jesus Himself. Eternal fire. Fire prepared for Satan and his demons, but humans will get to share it too.

Helping the helpless is a big deal to God. Do you find it odd that eternal salvation is given to those who provide this help? I thought salvation came from faith in Christ, and nothing else. How does helping the helpless equal faith in Christ? Does it? In this passage, the King has already divided all people the two groups, before he ever tells  them why they’re in the groups they are in. The King recognizes His sheep, and one of their defining characteristics is a sacrificial love that gives even without hope of any payback.

The disciples were diligent to give to the poor. They even kept money on hand for that purpose. They knew they should be frugal with their cash, not to waste it frivolously. So, when they were at Simon’s home soon after Jesus had told them the above story about the King, they were alarmed when a woman who also followed Jesus, broke open an extremely valuable bottle of perfume, and poured it on Jesus. The liquid dripped onto the dirty floor. Each drop was worth so much money! What a waste – it could have fed many hungry children in China! The bottle was worth 300 denarii. That’s almost a year’s wages, at the time. So, imagine a rare bottle of scent, worth $30,000 or $40,000. Broken and poured out in one moment.

The woman must have been crazy.

Why did she do it? Jesus tells us; she was preparing His body for burial.  Unlike the disciples, she’d understood the things Jesus had been saying recently.  She knew He was going to die, and be buried. She mourned Him already. Her act was a huge sacrificial offering, to show Him that she was very serious when said she believed He would die. She wasn’t denying the horrible fact.  She had already accepted it. In a way, she was one of the few who was ‘with Him’ about His death. She was saying to Him, “Jesus, when you’re in that tomb, we women will care for you. We will wait.  We will believe.”

But, were the disciples out of line when the protested the wastage? Couldn’t she have just told Jesus that she anticipated His death? I mean honestly – the money! Jesus had just told them that helping the helpless was very important, right?

But they hadn’t heard quite accurately.  Helping the helpless is important because by doing it, we serve Jesus. Hard as it may sound, it is not an end in itself. And perhaps this is where secular “mercy ministries” fall short, spiritually speaking. They relieve temporal misery (which is a good thing), but they do not have eternal significance. It must be done for Jesus. And the woman at Simon’s house knew this. She knew how crucial it was that Jesus was still there! Still with her!  For only a few more days, she had a rare opportunity to minister to Him directly.  How fascinating to imagine – a chance to help God in His need! How many times in history does a woman have a chance to do such a thing!  Would anything prevent her? No. Was any sacrifice too large? No. “What can I do?”  she asks herself.  “What is the biggest sacrifice I can make, to show Him I stand with Him in this hour of His grief?”

(Oh!! To be the woman who could assist God in His grief!  Can you imagine such a thing?)

She chose the right answer. While the men around Him continued in their ignorance of His mission, and argued among themselves about who was the greatest disciple, this quiet woman understood that the best gifts are those given to Jesus, and she would not lose her opportunity. “The poor you have with you always,” Jesus said to them, “but you do not always have Me.”

Because He is gone from us for now, we give to others in His name.

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