In the previous parts of my God vs Wealth series, I’ve explained why I’m convinced that Christians neither should be rich nor spend money on unnecessary stuff like luxury, beauty products and entertainment. There’s a common counter argument against this though: the woman with the alabaster jar.
In Matthew 26, Mark 14 and John 12, we read about this woman who poured out really expensive perfume from her alabaster jar on Jesus’ body. The disciples get upset and tell her that that perfume could have been sold for a lot of money, which could have been given to the poor.
However, Jesus’ defends the woman and calls her act “beautiful”. Countless (rich) Christians have told me that this is the proof that there are times when we don’t have to give our money to the poor but spend them on luxury instead. If it was okay for Jesus, and He was sinless, why would it be a problem if we from time to time enjoyed some extravagance and glamour?
My answer to that is that this text cannot be applied to any situation today whatsoever. I’ll show you what I mean. Firstly, we have to realize that the disciples are doing something very logical if we think about the teaching Jesus already has given them. He commanded them in Lk 12:33 to sell everything they have and give the money to the poor – of course they get upset when a woman refuses to do the same with an extremely expensive perfume (it says that it was worth 300 denarii – a year’s wage for the avarage worker).
It is thus very surprising that Jesus says that this act is something good. There must be something that makes this situation special, since it obviously is different compared to the disciples’ situation when Jesus commanded them to sell everything and give the money to the poor. What could that be? Well, Jesus Himself gives us the answer:
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. (Mt 26:11-12)
Jesus is thus emphazising that while the poor allways will be with the church, He will not (in His incarnational human body, obviously). His physical presence thus makes this situation special compared to any other situation in the future, where we will have poor people to help but not Jesus’ head to pour perfume on. Furthermore, Jesus says that the woman prepared Him for His burial through this act. It is thus a prophetic act, foretelling what will happen in the future, and thus the purpose is not enjoyment or a luxurious experience but to prophesy about the coming death of Jesus.
Since Jesus is not present in His incarnational body anymore, and since He has already died, this text cannot be applied to any situation today, because that are the reasons Jesus gives in the text to explain why the woman’s act was “beautiful”. I think that we instead of focusing at a text where Jesus gives no commands whatsoever conserning how we should live, we should look at the earlier chapter, Matthew 25, where He teaches that His disciples should feed the hungry, help the homeless and so on. Too many people suffer and die because of poverty, we should not support inequality through spending money on luxury but instead give as much as we can to aid.
Go on to part 8.