Judas: Phony Compassion
“Then one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot (who was about to betray Him), said, “Why wasn’t this fragrant oil sold for 300 denarii and given to the poor?” (John 12:4-5)
In thinking about this story, keep two things in mind:
1. Judas isn’t yet the Judas we know when this takes place. Note that John says that Judas as “about” to betray Jesus. Mary anoints Jesus on Saturday night. Judas will betray Jesus the following Thursday night. So when he makes his objection, Judas isn’t the bad guy he’s about to become.
2. When Matthew and Mark tell the same story, they both point out that many (perhaps most) of the other disciples made the same objection. Judas may have been the one to speak up, but he said what the others were thinking.
In the days to come, we’ll have other opportunities to examine Judas in more detail. At this point in the story, no one has any reason to suspect his coming betrayal. After all, you don’t put a questionable person in charge of the money-bag. You give it to someone you trust. This means that Judas was highly regarded by the other disciples, and it also means they were not good judges of character. Judas fooled them completely.
That brings us to his objection. Remember that 300 denarii would be worth at least $30,000 today. Where did Mary get the money to buy that expensive nard? No one knows and it is useless to speculate. What can’t be denied is that her gift was radical and, in the eyes of the disciples, reckless. Why “waste” the perfume by pouring it on Jesus’ feet? Why not give it to the poor?
Jesus’ response shows that he welcomes Mary’s extravagance: “Leave her alone; she has kept it for the day of My burial. For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me” (vv. 7-8). If you read that one way, it makes Jesus sound rather callous, as if he doesn’t care about the poor. But he is alluding to 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.’” It’s as if Jesus is saying, “Don’t use your phony compassion as an excuse to criticize Mary. The law commands you to show kindness to the poor. You are always to care for them. Nothing is stopping you from taking your money and giving it to them right now.” Seen that way, the words of Jesus are both a rebuke and a challenge: “Spend your own money on the poor, and stop criticizing Mary for showing such amazing devotion.”
Jesus was clearly pleased that Mary showed such love. That doesn’t conflict with caring for the poor. But in this case, Mary chose the better part even though the men thought she was crazy to do what she did. But she was right, and they were wrong. And Judas was worse off than anyone knew that night.
Mary showed her uninhibited devotion to Jesus, which shocked the men who saw it. In this case, radical love is better than phony compassion. There are several lessons here, including the obvious one that we shouldn’t criticize those who express their love differently than we do.
Do you love Jesus? Good, then don’t be afraid to let the world know and don’t worry if others don’t understand.
Lord Jesus, I pray to be set free from a judgmental spirit. Let my compassion for others be as real as my love for you. Amen.