Selling Ointments and Stealing from Moneybags

Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there.

Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.

Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”

John 12:1-8

This passage has been rattling around in my head since it was preached through this past Sunday at our church. I just can’t shake these words:

But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.

John doesn’t mince words, does he?

Judas Iscariot puts on a holy front basically so that he can steal money.

He is a thief, using piety to support his own agenda.

I wonder if there isn’t something we should be paying closer attention to here?

Years ago, I heard a sermon by a certain pastor from Michigan. He spoke about poverty. How if resources were distributed equitably, there would be no more need in the world.

How if America spent a tiny percent of the money it was spending on the war in Iraq to alleviate suffering, extreme poverty could be completely eliminated.

$74 billion dollars is what it would take, according to some sources.

And this is true.

If the problem were simply a matter of resource distribution and money. If it were even a matter of changing our priorities.

Unfortunately, it’s not.

The problem here isn’t just that there’s a lack of equity in distribution (which there is). It’s not simply that we need to reexamine our priorities (which we constantly should).

The issue is the heart of man.

The issue is sin.

Mankind’s problem, like Judas’, is sin. Sin is not simply something we do, it’s part of who we are.

“Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me,” wrote David in Psalm 51:5. We are born sinners.

It’s our nature.

John tells us that Judas’ question was not motivated by his love for the poor, but because he was a thief. He stole from Jesus’ ministry’s moneybag.

He travelled for years with Jesus. Talked with Him daily. Ate with Him. Learned from Him.

But His heart was bad.

He loved sin more than He did Jesus.

This leads us to our problem today.

Today, yes, we could theoretically eliminate extreme poverty. If it was just a matter of priorities or distribution or dollars, we could do it in an instant.

But we can’t.

Because it’s not about that. It’s about our hearts.

If our hearts are bad, if we love sin and are slaves to it, no amount of legislation in the world is going to help. No amount of money is going to change the state of things on the macro level.

I don’t want to dash anyone’s dreams here, because you know what? It would be awesome if poverty was eliminated tomorrow. Seriously.

I support and work for an organization that wants to see this happen, and by God’s grace is seeing it happen in the lives of children and families.

But it’s not going to go away.

Not yet.

Not until Jesus comes back.

“The poor you always have with you,” said Jesus (John 12:8).

Call me crazy, but I’m pretty sure when Jesus says “always,” He means “always.” Why? Because as long as there are sinners upon the earth there will not be true, final justice for all.

It doesn’t mean that we despair and give up trying to improve the lives of men, women and children who desperately need assistance.

Failing to pursue justice is no less evil than circumventing it altogether.

But we do so understanding that it is Jesus who will end poverty.

We will not.

It’s not our job to end poverty. It never has been.

We pursue justice, not because we can end poverty, but because Jesus will.

We can’t change hearts.

But Jesus can.