Jesus’ message was that all of us—at our very best—fall far short, and need a Savior. We’re all alike wicked before God. Both oppressor and oppressed have the same sinful heart that needs to be redeemed. I thank God that he extends grace to outsiders, because that’s the only kind of people there are.
This gospel message never changes. But your response to this message means everything.
In Matthew 26:6-16, Matthew highlights two responses to the gospel. One is found in the person of Judas, and the other is found in the person of Mary. All of us fall into one of those two categories.
Judas didn’t want to see himself as a sinner in need of a Savior. He preferred to see himself as someone better than others, someone worthy of respect, someone worthy to be rewarded. So despite spending three entire years at Jesus’ side, he missed Jesus altogether.
Contrast this attitude with that of the woman who came to anoint Jesus (We know from John’s account that this was Mary, Lazarus’ brother). Mary was so overwhelmed with love and gratefulness to him that she poured an expensive alabaster jar of perfume on his head. Her most precious treasure was offered up in a moment because she realized how much more precious Jesus was. She loved much because she realized she had been forgiven much.
Judas wasn’t looking for forgiveness. He wanted a Messiah who would punish evil (those bad people out there) and reward the righteous (me). Mary, in contrast, understood the Messiah came to bestow grace because there were none righteous. Judas wanted a Messiah who would bestow power and riches. He thought the Messiah would give him the good life. Mary understood that knowing Jesus was the good life.
We know Judas didn’t get Jesus’ mission because of the way he responds to Mary’s offering. He thinks that the perfume poured out on Jesus was “wasted”! And in one sense, of course, he is right. As Jonathan Edwards put it, what is so shocking about Mary’s act was its seeming uselessness.
Think about it. An anointing of perfume isn’t exactly helpful to Jesus at this moment. It smelled good for a few hours and then was gone. It isn’t useful to get anything for Mary, either. Mary knew she didn’t need to earn Jesus’s favor. In John 11, Mary had already received Jesus’ promise that she would be with him forever in heaven.
But even though Mary’s sacrifice was “useless” in the world’s eyes, it still served a vital purpose: It put her love for Jesus and his worth on display. What could be more important than that?
Our willingness to do what seems useless to the world reveals whether we find Jesus simply a means to an end or the end himself. Judas served Jesus to get things—which is why, when he didn’t get the power and riches he had hoped for, he betrayed him. Jesus was simply a means to an end for Judas.
Our willingness to do what seems useless to the world reveals whether we find Jesus simply a means to an end or the end himself.
Mary, on the other hand, saw knowing Jesus as riches and wealth itself. Rather than being a means to an end, he was an end worthy of any sacrifice. Rather than being useful and dispensable to Mary, Jesus was precious and beautiful to her.
Judases reject Jesus the moment he stops being useful to them. Marys cling to Jesus, “useful” or not, because he has never stopped being beautiful to them.
Take a look at how you respond when life disappoints you, or when suffering comes your way. How do you respond? Do you say to God, “This hurts like crazy … but if you can use this to help me know you more, I’ll take it, because knowing you is a better treasure than an easy life”? Or do you get angry and say, “God, you are not keeping up your end of the deal!” Judases and Marys both walk through disappointment and suffering. Judases do so demanding God prove his usefulness; Marys do so pleading with God to make them useful for his task.
Friend, even if your heart resonates with the spirit of Judas, it is never too late to follow the repentant path of Mary. Cry out to God today, “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling.”