The Power of Generosity
In 1632, the Muhgal Emperor Shah Jahan commissioned the building of a huge memorial complex in honor of his favorite wife (he had several).
It took 20 years to complete and is estimated to have cost $1 billion in today’s value.
The centerpiece of the 42 acre complex is the 32,000 sq ft mausoleum that houses the tombs of Jahan and his beloved wife.
The Taj Mahal is a structure most everyone in the world is familiar with, and it was a building built for 1 person.
Estimates to replace the Taj Mahal range from $10 billion to $1 Trillion.
Seems king of extravagant for 1 person doesn’t it?
But for Jahan, one of the most powerful and wealthy men in the world at the time, it wasn’t extravagant, not for the wife he loved so dearly.
Sure that money and time could have helped and served a lot more people than just the one, but for Jahan it was worth it. She was worth it.
How do we determine the value of something? And how do we express that value?
It has been the focus of our series as we have looked at what the bible teaches us about generosity.
jn 12 1-8
1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany where Lazarus was, the one Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 So they gave a dinner for him there; Martha was serving them, and Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with him. 3 Then Mary took a pound of perfume, pure and expensive nard, anointed Jesus’s feet, and wiped his feet with her hair. So the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 Then one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot (who was about to betray him), said, 5 “Why wasn’t this perfume sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” 6 He didn’t say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief. He was in charge of the money-bag and would steal part of what was put in it. 7 Jesus answered, “Leave her alone; she has kept it for the day of my burial. 8 For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
Jesus had just recently, maybe in the last few days, raised Lazarus from the dead.
Jesus goes to Bethany where Lazarus and family are and they throw a party for Him, likely in the house of Simeon the Leper (who was potentially healed by Jesus of leprosy)
John dates this account 6 days before the passover, which would place it at the beginning of the week before His death and resurrection.
Martha is serving (vs 2), Lazarus reclined at the table with Jesus (vs 2)
They would have been laying on their sides with their feet pointing out, leaning on their elbows as they ate with their free hand.
We get a flashback of Luke 10 when Jesus was visiting Bethany.
Luke says Martha was distracted with serving all the guests and she got frustrated with her sister Mary who was just sitting, listening to Jesus as he taught.
Here though, Martha is again serving, but not she isn’t frustrated even though her sister isn’t helping again.
Vs 3 - Mary comes into the rooms with pound of expensive perfume.
Matthew and Mark add the detail that the perfume would have been in an alabaster.
It would likely have had a long, thin neck that would have to be broken in order for it to be poured out.
It is also said to have been “nard” which was expensive because it likely came from India and would have been rare, which explains it’s value.
John records that Mary began pouring the expensive perfume on the feet of Jesus and then wiping His feet with her hair.
The oddness of this scene isn’t lost on us, it would be off-putting for us if someone walked into a dinner party and started washing someone’s feet with their hair.
But culturally, this wasn’t odd, people regularly washed their feet since they wore sandals all the time in sandy, muddy streets with animals freely roaming and doing what animals do.
But the job of feet washing wasn’t the lowliest of jobs and considered in Jewish culture to be degrading. Then to do so with her hair would be even more exceptional.
vs 4-6 — Judas, one of Jesus’s followers, and the one who would soon betray and turn Jesus over to the Jews and the Romans, speaks up in frustration.
He argues that Mary has done something entirely wasteful, pouring out perfume that was worth a year’s wages when it could have been sold and provided help to the poor.
John is obviously writing this account long after it had happened, so his side comment here in vs. 6 may have been later discovery of Judas’s lack of integrity or potentially something the disciples had been aware of at them time. Either way, John wants to ensure that those reading know the true motives of Judas’s heart.
Judas is right, perhaps the perfume was worth $50,000 or $60,000. A lot could have been done for the poor for that amount.
But John sees the significance of the comparison between Mary and Judas here and wants to highlight it.
vs. 7-8 — Then Jesus speaks up and, somewhat surprisingly, defends Mary.
Jesus is a Jew and He understands the value of things like what Mary has poured out on His feet.
Why would He so firmly defend her and so decidedly rebuke Judas?
“LEAVE HER ALONE” strong words to Judas to back off her. 3 reasons Jesus gives:
7 “so that she may keep it for my burial”
Stop Judas, let her affection for me flow unhindered. Do not infect her mind with the sins of your heart.
Jesus was both scolding Judas for his unbelief and idolatry and encouraging Mary to not let Judas’ sin diminish her devotion to Him.
8a “you always have the poor”
Stop Judas, if you really meant that you have the rest of your life to serve the poor.
In reality Judas didn’t care about the poor, he cared about squeezing everything he could out of this life.
8b “you do not always have Me”
Stop Judas, Mary understands how gloriously valuable I am.
Mary understands that Jesus is more precious than anything we can dream up in our minds or buy with our checkbook.
Generosity has the power to:
Generosity has the power to:
1) REVEAL our TREASURE .
1) REVEAL our TREASURE .
It reveals in that we can see in our willingness to be generous just how much value we see in any given thing.
If I struggle to be generous with my time, money, resources... in serving others, I am revealing how much I treasure my own stuff.
Likewise, if I am generous with my time, I am revealing that serving the needs of others is worth the sacrifice of my time, money, resources...
You can see the heart of generosity in the comparison between Mary and Judas.
This was perhaps a family decision, to give up something of tremendous value for the family to express the love they have for Jesus.
We don’t hear Martha complaining or Lazarus grabbing her arm before she pours, it seems like they had set down and worked out a plan before the party.
This alabaster jar of perfume was a significant and costly treasure for Mary, and potentially her family.
This could be her dowry – she could be giving up a chance at marriage
This could be her inheritance – they could be giving up their standing in society
This could be her livelihood – they could have poured out their food and rent money for the year.
But there is no hesitation, for Mary her love for Jesus has grown to match His immeasurable value.
JESUS IS MORE VALUABLE—than finding the right spouse, being rich or important, or even being able to live comfortably day to day.
How difficult a place this is to come to.
It reveals his self-focused embrace of the values of the world.
Framed in what seem to be words of compassion for the poor, Judas is both pandering to the crowd like a politician, saying things that make him sound like a caring person.
But all the while his true desire is to get more of the stuff that he thinks will make his life better.
Judas doesn’t value Jesus.
Perhaps at one time he did, when he thought “This is the Messiah, the one who is supposed to overthrow the Romans and become king.”
But when he realized Jesus wasn’t going to become king and so Judas wasn’t going to gain wealth, power, and position, then his allegiance and enthusiasm faded.
Jesus didn’t serve his needs in the way he desired.
If someone looked deeply at your life what would they say holds the most value for you?
What is your alabaster jar that is more treasured than Jesus?
Comfortable and safe lifestyle
Dreams of the future (retirement, marriage, successful children…)
2) REORIENT our PURPOSE.
2) REORIENT our PURPOSE.
8 For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”
Mary’s actions here are unconventional, and even seen by those watching as foolish.
It wasn’t just Judas who thought she was a fool.
Matthew 26:8–9 (ESV)
8 And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? 9 For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.”
Jesus is challenging our priorities here.
We don’t always waste our time doing pointless, menial things (though that definitely is true of all of us at times.)
Jesus is not saying helping the poor is not important.
He is saying that Mary has her priorities in order.
Generosity leads us to give up, postpone, or reorganize good things for greater opportunities.
Mary understood that the thing she most needed to focus on that particular day was extravagantly honoring the one she treasured so greatly.
Sure there were chores to be done, work to accomplish.
Yes she was giving something that was of tremendous value to her and her family.
Something that would potentially alter her future in ways they may never recover from.
And yeah, she was going to look like a fool to those watching.
But it was all worth it.
The other, “important,” things could wait, they would still be there when He was gone.
Perhaps the things she was saving for and hoping for were not going to happen because of her decision.
And yeah, people were probably going to stare, and whisper, and point their fingers, and maybe even make fun of her.
But she was confident in her purpose that very moment.
The way of Jesus doesn’t always make sense to those who are outside the faith.
Generosity has the power to redefine our purpose in ways that are upside down and inside out from those watching from outside.
Some may call you crazy, naïve, or stupid for how you express your love for Christ, but remember Jesus’s words “Leave her alone!!”
Generosity has the power to free us to live without regret and with a purpose so much bigger than we can imagine.
3) REDEFINE our LEGACY.
3) REDEFINE our LEGACY.
John 12:3 (ESV)
3 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.
John highlights the effects of Mary’s sacrificial generosity
Our sacrificial service, our radical generosity, our humble kindness is powerfully influential.
Early Christians were known for the way they served, gave of themselves, and took in those who needed a place to stay.
Even in Acts 2 we are told that they grew in favor with all people because of the way they loved one another.
This idea is at the heart of Jesus’s words in Matt 5
14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
Our generosity makes an eternal impact for the Kingdom of God.
We are building a legacy when we give of our selves for the glory of Jesus.
A legacy that is so much greater than a huge nest-egg for the grand kids or a successful career or whatever we spend our time doing.
It is a kingdom legacy.
Matthew and Mark add one statement to the end of this account.
13 Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”
Mary’s legacy is extravagant devotion to Jesus.
Judas’s legacy is selfish betrayal and despair that ended in suicide.
What will people remember about you?
Live your life to be remembered for things that matter.
Live your life that makes a difference in the lives of others.
That serves the needs of others.
Live a life that demonstrates power of a generous life.