When Wasting Your Life Is Worship

We all are happiness hunters. We are all treasure seekers. And as Judas and Mary illustrate, there’s one sure way to measure what we treasure: what we’re willing to spend to obtain it.

The dinner table was buzzing with happy conversation. As Lazarus fielded a stream of questions about what it was like to die and Martha cleared empty plates and filled empty wine bowls, Mary quietly slipped away into another room.

When she returned she was carrying a large wooden bowl with a small alabaster jar inside. Mary knelt down near Jesus’s feet, placed the bowl on the floor, and began to remove her headdress. The talking trailed away as Jesus turned toward her and sat up. Soon everyone was straining or standing to get a better look at what she was doing.

Mary removed the small jar and then reverently placed Jesus’s feet inside the bowl. She picked up the jar, removed the stopper, and poured its contents slowly on Jesus’s feet. The room was wordless as she gathered her long hair in her right hand and used it to wipe Jesus’s feet. An exotic, breathtaking fragrance wafted across the table. The guests exchanged wide-eyed glances. Everyone knew this was a rare perfume.

Jesus was moved. His eyes were full of intense affection as he watched Mary work.

Judas was moved too, but not with affection. He was irritated. He simply could not fathom Mary’s wasteful extravagance. That perfume had to have been worth nearly a year’s wages. Never once in three years had Jesus’s disciples had that amount of money at one time. And there it sat, a contaminated, worthless puddle in a bowl.

His indignant objection shot through the silence: “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?”

This question turned the atmosphere tense. Mary stopped and looked sadly at the floor. All other eyes turned to Jesus. To a number of the disciples this seemed like a fair question. Jesus typically instructed them to give any extra money in their collective moneybag to the needy. Often “extra” meant beyond what they needed that day. Mary’s act did seem a bit indulgent.

Jesus said nothing for a moment and continued to stare at Mary. He knew what they were all thinking. And he knew that Judas had questioned her “not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief and being in charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it” (John 12:6). Judas’s noble sounding protest was no more than a disguise for his greed. Jesus grieved and seethed over Judas’s duplicity and how he had contaminated Mary’s worship.

Then 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,” and turning his piercing eyes to Judas said with potent sorrow, “but you do not always have me” (John 12:7–8).

Judas and Mary are contrasts in treasuring. They both had hedonistic motives. Neither acted out of stoic duty. Both pursued the treasure they believed would make them happy. To Mary, Jesus was the priceless Pearl (Matthew 13:45), which she loved more than anything and she spent what was likely her greatest earthly possession to honor him. To Judas, thirty pieces of silver was a fair price for the Pearl.

Judas’s sin wasn’t that he was hunting happiness. His sin was believing that having money would make him happier than having Christ.

O Judas, the tragedy of your value miscalculation! The Pearl worth more than the entire universe sat in front of you and all you could see were perfume puddles. You grieved the squandering of a year’s wages while you squandered infinite, eternal treasure!

Jesus leads all his disciples to watershed moments like Mary’s and Judas’s when choices we make, not words we say, reveal the treasure we want. These moments are designed to make us count this cost: “Whoever loves his life loses it. And whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:25). These moments force us to choose what we really believe is gain, whether we value the Pearl or puddles.

If we choose the Pearl, we hear in Judas’s objection the world’s appraisal of us. They watch as we pour our valuable time, intellects, money, youth, financial futures, and vocations out on Jesus’s feet. They watch them puddle in the bowls of churches, mission fields, orphanages, and homes where children are raised and careers are lost. And what they see is foolish waste. Expect their rebuke, not their respect.

Jesus wants you to waste your life like Mary wasted her perfume. For it is no true waste. It is true worship. A poured out life of love for Jesus that counts worldly gain as loss displays how precious he really is. It preaches to a bewildered, disdainful world that Christ is gain and the real waste is gaining the world’s perfumes while losing one’s soul in the process (Matthew 16:26).

Are you wasting your life?