What would you sacrifice for the king who died?
It’s so easy to be ashamed of our faith, or to want to conceal it. Maybe we want to share it, but we have boundaries: we will share it on these days, or with this person, or when we don’t have assignments to do. At MYC, the first talk was on the first half of Matthew 26. There are a bunch of things that I’m reflecting on, but one big one was this: how much do I value Jesus? When it comes down to it, value is worked out by how much you will sacrifice for something. It’s the principle behind any form of economy, or even any relationship. What you prioritise shows your values. What you trade in shows what you value.
When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, 2 “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.”
3 Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, 4 and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. 5 But they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people.”
6 Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, 7 a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. 8 And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste?9 For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.”10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12 In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. 13 Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”
14 Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. 16 And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.
17 Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?” 18 He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him,‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” 19 And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover.
20 When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve. 21 And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”22 And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” 23 He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” 25 Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.”
When the woman comes up and pours the perfume out, she shocks the disciples, but gains the acclamation of Jesus. She gets that serving the poor is important, but honouring the King who became poor for our sake is our first priority. Her gesture is costly: Jesus is valuable to her, and she doesn’t let the scorn or rebuke of others hold her back.
The next scene, however, paints a stark contrast. Judas was the treasurer, and it seems to be him who objects to the “wasted” money (see John 12 – it may well be the same incident). He seeks out the Jewish leaders, and strikes a deal to sell out Jesus. 30 pieces of silver. It’s not just significantly less than the woman’s perfume would cost, but a conceptually degrading amount: the amount paid for the death of a slave. What a contrast to the royal honour poured out by the woman!
Next is Jesus sharing a meal with his disciples once more. He drops a clanger: hey guys, one of you is going to betray me! To share a meal was a symbol of trust and fellowship. Judas was right in with them, and his betrayal is big. Judas seems to be in it for what he could gain (see John 12 again: he’s a bit of a penny pincher), and he saw no gains in being the disciple of a dead man. Judas massively undervalues Jesus: he sells him short. His rebuke of the woman’s gesture toward Jesus is seen in light of his own cheap betrayal.
The dichotomy is not just in how they treat Jesus, but in the consequences of their attitude. The woman is to be remembered all around the world, as the gospel is preached. Jesus was true to his word on this. Judas, on the other hand: “woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”
Friends, there is much at stake in how we see Jesus. The one who celebrates Jesus is remembered and proclaimed. The one who undervalues Jesus faces an afterlife of of condemnation.
That’s a huge challenge. Jesus is a king who died: it could be easy to feel ashamed. Sitting in a philosophy or science class, do you feel that your faith is a bit of an embarrassment? It is super easy for us to feel frustrated about going to serve God instead of notching up a few more marks in that assignment, or earning some extra dollars. It’s certainly something that I have felt. Often we don’t want to speak up for Jesus, for fear of being tarred with the same brush.
I was really struck that when it comes to Jesus, the proper response has no restraint. Considerations that there is a limit to how much we will give are in line with Judas’ thinking. Will we give things up in thankful sacrifice, or draw the line where our celebration of Christ ends? In this chapter, the juxtaposition of Judas with the woman makes the right attitude clear. What seems like a waste to others (even other disciples!) is never wasted if it is honouring Jesus.
This is always true, but it is certainly an important thing to consider when approaching the Your God mission over the next few weeks. I can’t speak for what God will do through us. What I do know is that I’m going in (and I pray that you will too) with a mind to be like the woman, not like Judas. To have an attitude that if it means I have to give up everything along the way, then that’s what it takes. If doing mission costs me reputation, marks, money, energy, health, whatever, I’m praying that God will help me to make those sacrifices without qualms.
The king has died, and I want to serve our great God proudly, not with shame or restraint. I want to bring it all to the table, and not set limits on what I will give for his mission.