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God’s Word for You

Mark 14:4-7 Good Deeds Like Mary’s

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, December 2, 2023

4 Some of those who were there became indignant and said to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? 5 This perfume could have been sold for three hundred denarii and the money could have been given to the poor.” And they spoke harshly to her. 6 Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why are you giving her trouble? She has done a beautiful thing for me. 7 You will always have the poor with you, and you can do good for them any time you want. But you will not always have me.”

How gently Mark uses the plural “some” (Greek tines), as if more than one man or woman was there to be upset about the waste. Matthew hints that other disciples beside Judas were drawn into this, but he does not say that any of the apostles spoke this way, apart from Judas. The followers of Jesus were generally known as disciples; the Twelve were his chosen apostles.

The only two or three we need to concern ourselves with are Judas and the devil who was hovering around, listening very carefully to the kinds of things Judas said, watching his rolling eyes, hearing his whispered grumbling, and urging him to more open opposition to any good deed. One of those who spoke was certainly Judas, for John says that he did (John 12:5), and that he said this because he was a thief. It is also worth noting that these are the very first words from Judas that are recorded in the Gospels.

And who would Judas grumble or whisper to more than to his own wife? We have good reason to believe that in addition to Peter, who was certainly married (Mark 1:30), all of Jesus’ apostles were married (1 Corinthians 9:5). It’s doubtful that Judas was an exception to this. And there would have been fertile ground for temptation, greed, and perhaps even some plotting, together with his wife. John makes it clear that Satan did not fully enter into Judas for the betrayal of Jesus until partway through the Passover meal (John 13:27), but Mark’s phrase, “they said to one another,” surely implies that Judas was not only speaking about Mary’s act with scorn and with complete disregard for anything good in the act, but he was speaking about it with someone who agreed with him, and here the most likely solution, more than any Pharisee or Sadducee (would any of them have been in the house of Simon the leper in Bethany?), or any of the Twelve, is simply that Judas and his wife were on the scene, muttering and mumbling to one another in whispers that erupted into harsh words at Mary.

How often a Christian is berated for their good works! When I was studying for the ministry, a girl I went on a date with decided to unload all of her own frustration with her church, her denomination (which was not my own), and how little she thought of the Bible. I gave her my answer, but I was also grateful to God for showing me what a nightmare it would have been for me if that one date had deepened into a permanent relationship! What a thorn she would have been for my ministry and my life. What kind of mother would she have been to our children, constantly questioning whether they should be baptized, whether they should go to Sunday school, whether I would be better off doing something else besides wasting my life (her very words) preaching the gospel?

But there kneels Mary at the feet of Jesus, anointing, wiping, caressing, and drying the feet of her Savior; her God. And there the venom of Judas was sent stinging into her undeserving ears. The scolding she got reminds us all that we will be attacked for our faith at all times, especially when we are vulnerable, hurting, in need of support. For to struggle with the devil is very much like being in a street fight. Those who might have helped you at other times end up backing up to get out of the way and see how things will fall out. And just when you think you’ve got an advantage, there is Satan’s thumb in your eye, his claws tearing at your cheeks, his fist in your stomach just when you’re trying to get a breath. He will kick you, punch you, pound you, and there is no referee to call foul. He will throw dirt in your eyes and put his knee in your groin—anything at all to overpower you. He will stab at you suddenly with a blade you did not expect. And he will gloat when you’re down. He will make you ashamed for everything you’ve ever done, whether good or bad. He will seem to stand behind God as if judgment for sin were his own idea, and yet he will be tugging you away from God into more sin at the very same time. He is a brutal enemy, an awful enemy, a dirty fighter, a cheat, and a liar. And he wants nothing less that your body in a grave and your soul in hell, for there he thinks he will taunt you and berate you and mock you all the more, the lying, bitter old fool that he is.

Blessed be Jesus, our friend, our champion. “Leave her alone,” Jesus said to Judas and his termagant partner (I will say again that I wouldn’t be surprised that Judas had his wife there at this gathering).

“She has done a beautiful thing for me.” Like a husband delighting in the pure nard, the fruit, spices, fountain, and other delights of his wife’s private garden (Song of Solomon 4:13-14), the Lord of the Church is delighted by his bride, the Church, represented here by this friend from Bethany, who bathed him in perfume to prepare him for his burial. If a Christian chooses to benefit the Lord God with a luxury, and it is done to give glory to God and not for any secretly sinful purpose, then let it be done. Yes, there are those who might perform a good work for notoriety (Matthew 6:5), or to keep from some other task (Matthew 15:5-6). But that wasn’t Mary’s desire at all. She was showing that the preaching of Jesus, the word of God, was producing this deed, as Paul says: “Live in a way that is worthy of the Lord. Our goal is that you please him by bearing fruit in every kind of good work and by growing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10). What she did was not a good work of itself, otherwise, anyone might have done it, even Judas! But on account of her connection with Christ and her faith in him, what she did was not even marred by her own status as a sinner, for sinners we all are. But works like hers done from faith have the imputation of Christ’s merits upon them, so that in God’s loving eyes, Jesus’ own perfection blesses such deeds. “In Christ they are perfectly good.”

What good deeds you do, those that respond to God’s gifts and especially to the forgiveness offered by Jesus Christ, are glorified and sanctified in the same way. They are a beautiful offering of thanks given to God for his gifts that bless us. For through Christ, and for his sake, both the doer and the deed are acceptable to God.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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