Why This Waste?

Everyone in the room froze in an instant. Immune to the judgments of her peers, she blissfully raises a beautiful jar overflowing with the most expensive perfume she could find. Suddenly…

Slowly, steadily she tips the jar.

The perfume comes racing out, overwhelming senses with a pervasive sweet smell. “Why this waste?” one man objects as the perfume plummets to the floor. I imagine he tries to stop her from pouring out the entire jar on their young leader’s head.

It was too late. It seemed like a colossal waste of resources. An entire jar of perfume created for royalty was just used on a rugged carpenter. He didn’t ask for it. He didn’t even want it, or so they all thought.

Yet this woman’s unexpected gift and Jesus’ unusual response was so ingrained into their minds, all four gospel writers included the following passage in their accounts of His life:

While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.

When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”

Imagine how much impact that money would have in the community. It could probably fund the local food pantries for years. It was a valid question and one many of us ask today.

Why this waste of time reading the scriptures in your room when you could be out serving the poor?

Why this waste of money on a short-term mission trip when you could send resources to them instead?

Why this waste of materials on a modern cathedral?

I’ve asked these questions myself and, arrogantly assuming the role of Sovereign, answered differently than Jesus does here:

Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.

When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

– Matthew 26:6-13 NIV

A beautiful thing?! Are you sure, Jesus? Didn’t you say that we should look after the least of these? I know you’re the rebel king and all but give me a break. That’s a lot of money!

At the risk of oversimplifying his response, Jesus basically says, “Why not?” He seductively suggests that perhaps wasting our lives is not a bad thing. Perhaps it’s even our chief aim. Perhaps our lives are intended to be a royal waste of time for Christ.

This story reminds me of Satan questioning Adam’s obedience, Abraham’s sacrifice, and even Jesus’ own subservience. In this story we see the chief paradox of our faith: To truly live you must die. To gain anything you must give everything. To impact eternity you must waste your life.

I wonder how long the smell of the perfume stays with Jesus. It’s Passover, He’ll be dead soon.

I wonder if Peter can still see how the perfume has matted his hair as the Son of God washes his feet.

I wonder if Judas could still smell it as he kisses the beard of his rabbi and betrays him.

I wonder if Jesus can still taste it mixed with blood, sweat, and vinegar as he hangs from a crucifix.

That same crucifix would become the most recognizable symbol in the world of a life royally wasted.

“But I don’t want to waste my life! I want it to matter for God’s kingdom.”

So do I. Maybe Jesus is defending the heavenly value of a gift that brings Him glory. Maybe he is proving that a life sacrificed for His glory is never wasted.