Following Matthew’s chronology, the dinner given in Jesus’ honor in Bethany was the last supper before the Last Supper. There were seventeen people present: Simon the Leper, Mary, Martha, Lazarus, the twelve apostles, and Jesus.
While they were eating, Mary broke the seal of an alabaster jar of expensive perfume and anointed Jesus.
“Why this waste?” howled Judas. Other disciples joined in: they were indignant and harshly rebuked Mary, fuming that the perfume—worth more than a year’s wages—should have been sold and the money given to the poor.
These critics had often experienced the hospitality of the Bethany home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Did they ever high-five their hosts—and quip, “Why this waste?”
“Leave her alone,” Jesus said. “She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me.”
Was Mary’s action extravagant? Yes. Was it wasted extravagance? No. Mary’s act of devotion honored Jesus. A “beautiful thing” done for Jesus is never wasted and never forgotten.
Judas bristled at Jesus’ rebuke to “Leave her alone!” He left the table, slithered out the door, and cut a deal to deliver Jesus to the enemy. A few hours later he would leave the Passover table, slip out the door, and make good on the traitorous transaction.
Judas had been given a privileged position. Of the thousands of residents of Judea, he was the only one chosen to be an apostle; all the other apostles being from Galilee. He had been a close companion of Jesus for three years; had seen the miracles and heard the parables. He was one of the few commissioned by Jesus to heal the sick, raise the dead, and drive out demons. And he held the trusted post of treasurer for the apostolic group.
He squandered all of that. The question he asked about Mary’s deed is the question that should be asked of his: “Why this waste?” His wasn’t the waste of a pint of perfume, but the waste of a position of influence and trust. It wasn’t the waste of things, but the waste of life. Jesus called him “son of perdition” (Jn 17:12), which Dr. Warren Wiersbe translated “son of waste.”
The actions of Mary and Judas both had far-reaching (think eternal) consequences. Mary’s act of love filled the house and the world with a fragrance that will last forever. Judas’s act of betrayal left a stench that will also last forever.
Of Mary’s deed of love, Jesus said, “Wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” Of Judas’s deed of betrayal, Jesus said, “It would be better for him if he had not been born”—the eternal epitaph etched over the gate of his final purchase, the “Field of Blood.”
Mary’s devotion inspires us to live up to our best. Judas’s disloyalty warns us of the tragedy of living down to our worst. We have choices. And choices have consequences.
Life is a gift. It isn’t purchased. It isn’t earned. It isn’t deserved. It is given. And each life is custom-made. There are no mass-produced, assembly-line, off-the-shelf, one-size-fits-all, lives. Your life is unique, one-of-a-kind, the only you in history. It’s your life. You can spend it however you choose—you can use it wisely or waste it.
The apostle Paul wrote: “God’s grace has made me what I am, and his grace to me was not wasted” (1 Cor 15:10 NCV).
God’s grace to Mary was not wasted. His grace to Judas was.
By the grace of God, you are what you are. “We beg you who have received God’s grace not to let it be wasted” (2 Cor 6:1 TEV).
Pray that examination of who you are, what you have, and what you do will never kindle the question, “Why this waste?”