Is it wasteful? Or is it beautiful?

Is it wasteful? Or is it beautiful?

Something really unusual happened to Jesus in Matthew 26. He was having dinner with his disciples and some friends when a woman poured some incredibly expensive perfume on his head. By incredibly expensive, I mean that most scholars estimate the value of the perfume at around a year’s salary for a worker. A year’s salary! Most people would never own something worth that much, let alone use it all at once on someone.

If you were sharing the meal that evening, what would you think about this anointing by this woman? The disciples were indignant. This seemed so wasteful. And especially in light of what Jesus had just taught in the previous chapter, that believers are called to do what they could to help ‘the least of these’ (Matt 25:40). Think of what could be done with something that valuable! Think of the practical help for so many people rather than one dramatic gesture!

I naturally agree with the apostles here. I am concerned for productivity and outcomes. I like to see resources used well. Yet the apostles were rebuked by Jesus, and so I need to change my thinking here as well.

Jesus says that what the woman has done was beautiful. Not wasteful; beautiful. She recognised that Jesus was worthy of all she had. She had, unwittingly, symbolised Jesus’ anointing for burial. And this is the only episode where Jesus specifically said that what she had done would be told whenever the gospel was proclaimed; she had done something worthy of recounting for everyone.

How should we think about this? Consider when a small child has worked hard on a piece of artwork to give to their parents. They have spent a lot of time and effort on this art and have done the best they could with it. How do you think most parents would respond to being given such a gift? They would receive it with joy, understanding the effort and time that went into it. It would be beautiful in their eyes. It would be a very strange parent who would tell the child that their effort had been wasteful; surely they could have done something more productive with their time than colour in and draw? No, the child did the best they could, and it was beautiful.

In a world of busyness and productivity, we need to hear this. Not everything needs to be productive. In fact, not everything should be focussed on being productive. When we pray, we are doing something beautiful, though many could argue that it is wasteful. When we enjoy the beautiful day God has made for us, or when we sing and worship God with others, or when we rest as God calls us to do, these things are also beautiful. Engaging in these things reminds us that the main point in our lives is not to do more things. The main point in our lives is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. We need to focus on Jesus with activities that appear wasteful to others but are beautiful because they are focussed on Jesus.

Don’t only live to finish your to-do list. Pray, sing, worship, and remember that Jesus brings peace and joy, not only more work.