ad majorem dei gloriam, redux

Even Jesus accepted earthly, man-made glory. When Jesus is at Bethany, Mark’s gospel tells us, in chapter 14:

3…in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. 4There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? 5For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. 6But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. 8She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial.

Oftentimes our reaction to modern “glory” is quite the same as those who complained about this woman’s “waste” of a perfume that cost the equivalent of a working man’s yearly wages. Why shouldn’t this go to the poor, rather than exalt Jesus? Did not Jesus himself favor the poor?

Well, depends on who you ask, and how one interprets Scripture. The notion that “Jesus made a decision for the poor” is Marxist nonsense. Jesus made a decision for all, rich, poor, and in between. However, it is also clear that he knew that earthly riches can be a snare, and cause us to take our eyes away from the prize. Which is to inherit his crown, of course. After death. And, no, you can’t take your earthly possessions with you on that trip.

The Gospels are have Jesus speaking of shedding our earthly goods, to thereby gain the kingdom of heaven. Speaking to a rich young man, Jesus sums it up (Matthew 19:21):

Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

In short, by embracing earthly poverty, you gain heaven. So, why did Jesus allow himself to be, in effect, glorified by the pouring of fabulously expensive perfume over his head? Was this of a type that would encourage the building of lavish cathedrals filled with frescoes, statues, icons, and a lot of pious bric-a-brac?

I don’t think so. The annointing of Jesus has more to do with foretelling his imminent death. It also has to do with the lesson that we, each of us, give glory to God, through His Son, in ways that make sense for us in our own circumstances. This woman had the ointment, she gave it all for Jesus’ glory, in the most direct manner possible.

What is most telling is Jesus’ response to the woman’s critics: “you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them.” In other words, don’t complain about the glory given to God, even if some of it seems wasteful or is kitschy trash. Assume that those who provided it meant to glorify God, and perhaps that will inspire us to do the same in our own way.

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