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Contrasting Measures

Judging by the standards of the world often seems the natural thing to do.

I reckon it’s a timeless trait of all Jesus followers—because occasions of just such a response is recorded for us in the gospels. There were times the disciples of Jesus passed judgment using worldly values as their standard. When we come across such accounts, it’s easy to identify with their rationale. Until Jesus speaks, that is. Because when He interjects, He informs and contrasts that standard. His Words of instruction counter the world . . . and the inclinations of man.

Why, just look at the encounter recorded in John 12, for example:

“Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected” (Jn 12:1-4).

Martha was serving (not a surprise there), Lazarus was reclining . . . Judas, conniving. And Mary? She was worshipping . . . loving . . . anointing the Messiah of God. And Jesus? As always, He was renewing their minds with His teaching.

Where the NIV uses “objected” to describe Judas’ response, most translations simply use “said” or “asked.” Might this imply that someone can pose an opinion without objection? That all depends upon the heart behind it and the attitude by which it is expressed. Motive always becomes the greater measure. But I think the NIV better informs the reader by seasoning the backdrop with the intonation of that one flavorful word objected.

This side of the Cross, it’s easy to look at Judas with condemning eyes.

But who in this material world wouldn’t look at the monetary value of the nard that could fund Judas’s imagined mutinous mission? Judas measured the act by worldly standards—one that highly values money. But a heart full of worship for God is worth far more than any amount of expensive perfume.

Jesus knew Judas’ heart, having previously made the statement in his company, “One of you is a devil” (John 6:70-71). John is also careful to note: “Jesus knew from the beginning who should betray him” (John 6:64).

Jesus was quick with correction. And upon reaching the conclusion of the account, we’re left with contrasting hearts laid bare to consider. They stand opposed because they beat to different measures—one, the way of the world; and the other, the kingdom way of love. Both hearts worshipped, however. One worshipped money and the power it could buy. The other worshipped Jesus. The result? His was hard and empty. Hers, full. But the words of Jesus are always able to speak into the hardness of a heart darkened by greed.

Jesus defended Mary’s extravagance. Her faith, He justified. She was, after all, anointing God’s Messiah for burial.

Mary’s actions spoke just as loud as Judas’ condemning objection, if not louder. And the aroma of her lavish offering was adequate to cover the stench of his sin. Mary poured out her gratitude to Jesus for saving her brother from death’s snare—raising him to new life.

The actions of the disciple have the power to speak louder than words to the skeptical—of a gratitude for saving love that bears no price tag.

Judas measured her act of love in dollars and sense. He wanted for himself what was intended for Jesus. Such is the sly stinginess of envy. But what is offered the Lord is not for the taking, for personal gain. That may seem like an obvious statement, but how tempting is it to hijack glory due the Lord alone?

The world often looks upon the sacrificial giving of the Christian in wonder. Sometimes they scoff or scorn generous expressions of service to Jesus. Michal hardly understood when her own husband, David, danced unabandoned before the ark of the Lord (2 Samuel 6:16).

Impracticality is not always understood. For, rather than passing judgment based upon devotion for eternal salvation, it is done so according to the values of the world.

They stand in stark contrast—as witnessed here with the opposing hearts of Mary and Judas.

At first glance of the text, it seems there are two who can be labeled a “disciple.” But when you compare the contrasting attitudes, actions, and behaviors, you find, in all actuality, one was an enemy. It doesn’t appear to be suspected that Judas was a traitor by the other disciples, however. While it is possible to mask motives with other disciples, that’s not the case with Jesus. He measures up a heart to the fullest. And isn’t the measure of a disciple’s heart in its capacity to worship its Master?

Unfortunately, greed would gain the upper-hand in Judas’ heart, as he sold out his Lord for a few bits of silver—valued, but later tossed away as worthless. Yet the love Mary spent lives on.

We don’t know exactly how many disciples were in attendance at this banquet, but the four named are enough to paint a portrait of the differing postures and attitudes a disciple can have. Really, though, only two are needed—the contrasting ones, because they clearly demonstrate what pleases the Lord. And the one not of this world measured love from the heart.

(For more reflections from Debbra you can visit her blog at debbrastephens.com)

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