GIVEN TO THE POOR
T. PIERCE BROWN
Although personal experiences do not always add to the value of an article or lesson, it may be that one from last night may be an exception. For 40 or more years I have been accustomed to going to sleep at night listening to the Bible on tape. I started this when I used wire recordings, and when reel to reel tape recorders became available, I bought one, read the whole New Testament through and played it to myself each night. Then when portable cassettes came on the market, I got one and plugged it into my car cigarette lighter and read as I would ride. I remember the joy in the face of the beloved brother Gus Nichols when I told him about it, and he said he was going to do the same thing, although neither of us allowed that to substitute for our regular reading and study.
Last night at aboutmidnight, I was listening to Matthew 26:6-8, “Now when Jesus was inBethany, in the house of Simon the leper, there came unto him a woman having an alabaster cruse of exceeding precious ointment, and she poured it upon his head, as he sat at meat. But when the disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, To what purpose is this waste? For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor.” Although I have read it hundreds of times, the thought suddenly hit me that I would probably have said the same thing. We were very poor when I grew up, and we seldom spent anything for things that were not practical. At Christmas time, we never bought firecrackers. When I got married, and wanted to give my wife something for Christmas or her birthday, it seemed perfectly logical to me to get her a mop, for we needed one. So, last night I turned off the tape recorder and meditated on that passage for some time.
Before, when I had read the story, I would dwell on the fact that Judas had raised the question of why the waste, for he wanted all the money that was available to be put in the bag he carried, so he could steal it. So it had little application to me, for I had no intention of stealing from the Lord. But when I considered that the Lord, whose compassion for the poor was exceedingly great, and whose message and example has done more for the poor than any other person in history, allowed, condoned and approved of someone spending such an astronomical amount on something that had no practical value, I had to give it more attention.
There are things that are more important than merely helping the poor with material blessings. Things that cannot be bought with money are more important than things that can. Jesus was in no sense saying, “Forget about the poor. You have more important things to think about and do.” He said, “You have the poor with you always.” This suggests that there are some things that have to be done at a particular time, or they cannot be done at all. There are opportunities to evangelize or glorify Christ that must be seized or they vanish. Shakespeare said,
“There is a tide in the affairs of men
which taken at the flood leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
and we must take the current when it serves,
or lose our ventures.”
There are those who would take this example to try to prove that expressions of love, worship or adoration to the Lord may be spontaneous and boundless. They reason that it would therefore follow that if we wanted to express our love and worship to Christ by using mechanical instruments of music, perhaps especially if they were very expensive and impractical, it would meet with his approval. That kind of logic (?) would also allow the telling of beads, offering lots of expensive bulls on the altar, or any number of other things. Let us try to make the point clearer, if possible.
Suppose Jesus had said, “When I sit down to eat, I want rose water sprinkled on my head and feet,” it would have been improper for Mary to have said, “My love and respect for you is so great that I will disregard what you have requested, and will offer something much more expensive, which smells much better to me.” Yet many persons today who claim to want to glorify God are doing what sounds much better to them rather than what God said to do. Since in this case, Jesus did not specify, any kind of expression of love and devotion which did not transgress any other established principle would meet with his approval.
This illustration may help to clarify one way we may try to make a practical application of the principle seen here. God ordained that we worship Him. He did not specify in what kind of a building, in case we have one. We decide it is expedient to have a building, so must decide how simple or ornate it is to be. It can have unsawed lumber, and an ordinary padlock on the door. Or it can have the finest masonry with gold plated doorknobs, and a steeple. Most of us would probably choose something in between. If we decide on the cheapest one because we want to save the money to use for our own purposes, we are somewhat like Judas and are to be condemned. If we decide on the most expensive that we might glory in our achievements, or show off our wealth to the world, or to gratify our own selfish desires, we are in the same category. If we make the choice of something that will be more expensive, sacrificing to do it because we are convinced that is the best way we can glorify God, there is little doubt that he will accept it.
There are many other lessons we can get from this story, but meditating on it reminded me that I need to re-examine each passage of the Bible every time I study it, to see how it applies to my own life. It shocked me to realize that my response to a similar situation would have been closer to that of Judas than to that which Jesus approved. True love and devotion is not necessarily that which seems most practical at the moment.