Waste is not a good word these days. My daughter sings a song about not being a water-waster; there are whole companies devoted to waste management; piles of garbage collect in dumps around the world (on a recent episode of The Office, Dwight looked at a garbage dump and said with reverence, “No other animal could create this”). We are taught from an early age not to waste food, money, electricity, or time.
And so the story of Jesus' anointing at Bethany consistently jumps out at me whenever I make my way towards the end of Mark's gospel. Jesus was having dinner at the home of Simon the Leper (seemingly a waste of Jesus' social capital), and an unnamed woman comes and breaks a jar of expensive perfume and pours it on His head.
You can almost hear the gasps and whispers of indignation as those watching say, “Why this waste? The money used for that perfume could have been used to help the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.
But Jesus doesn't call her gift a waste. He calls it beautiful. He calls it seeing with eyes of faith and love. And He says it is to be remembered forever. She did what she could, she offered what she had, and it was more than enough.
I find great freedom and great challenge with this passage. My heart resonates with Jesus' affirmation that “she did what she could.” What she did was enough because it was all she could do. For someone like me who feels like nothing I do is ever enough, the freedom to be at peace with doing what I can do, not what I can't, is wonderful.
The challenge is that everything in me rebels against waste. I have to invest my time, money, resources, not waste them. And pouring perfume on Jesus, which smells great for a time, but eventually fades and leaves no tangible return, seems like a wasted investment. In the same way, sometimes spending moments and hours with Jesus, just being with Him without producing for Him or asking Him to do something for me or others, seems like a wasted investment.
But I have seen the truth of Jesus' words, that we will always have the poor, the needy among us. There is always going to be another person to help, another opportunity to be busy doing a “good thing” in Jesus' name and for His sake. But to let those crowd out the beautiful gift of drawing near to Jesus and just blessing Him with the gift of our time and attention, that is very dangerous, because it puts me close to the line of gaining the world but losing my soul.