But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, ‘Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.’ He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.
‘Leave her alone,’ Jesus replied. ‘It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.’” (John 12:1-7 NIV)
I’m a very pragmatic guy. Just ask my wife. She tends toward a “dreamer” approach to life. Just the other day, she had an idea, and immediately I began a pragmatic dissection of it. What about this? What about that? That’s just the way I’m wired and my initial thought process with anything is always from a pragmatic point of view.
So in reading this passage, I can immediately identify with Judas’ point of view. Yes, as the narrator confirms, his motives were impure when he suggested the money be spent in a more practical way, but, in ignoring that minor detail, I see his point. Why not split the difference and show deference to Jesus in some way, while saving the perfume and using it to help others?
This pragmatic view of things is not limited to Judas. Many people have it and I have often been on the receiving end of questions similar to that of Judas. Why spend all that money to go on a mission trip when you could just as easily spend it on needs here at home? Or why not send the money instead of yourself? Why do you want to earn a degree and then spend your life “begging for money” in a support-based ministry when you could rather be earning money? Why do I need to spend time reading the Scriptures or praying or serving others when I have so much studying to do? Why should I give a portion of my money to God’s work when I can barely get by with what I have?
In acknowledging my own pragmatism, I have also had to realize the Lord is not so concerned about what may make sense to us. His ways and thoughts are higher than ours (Isaiah 55). And He owns the whole universe. We tend to be pragmatic because we seek to conserve resources and use them wisely, but the Lord has access to everything He needs at anytime. Waste, as we know it, does not exist for Him. So though in a worldly sense Judas had a point, from the Lord’s perspective, Mary’s use of the perfume was right on the mark.
Over the years of being a Christian, I have grown in my understanding and willingness to follow the Lord’s lead in overriding my pragmatic approach to life. It has not been an easy journey and still at times my pragmatism can get the best of me. But I see more and more how living by faith means being less pragmatic and more obedient to be more free with my resources—time, money, wisdom, abilities—than often seems to me the reasonable course. I have had to learn to trust Him for His provision in my life. Even if He asks me to do “crazy” things with my resources, He will replenish them in some way. That is, in essence, living a life of faith.
Today, if the Lord is asking you to do something that seems to be a waste of your resources, remember the pragmatic thing to do is not always what He wants you to do.
© Jim Musser 2017