The Motivation to Serve

10      But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you bother the woman? For she has done a good deed to Me.
11      “For you always have the poor with you; but you do not always have Me.
12      “For when she poured this perfume on My body, she did it to prepare Me for burial.
13      “Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.”
(Matthew 26:10-13)

A few things stand out at me from this passage:

1. “But Jesus, aware of this, said to them…”

The disciples weren’t discussing this in earshot of Jesus, but Jesus knew what they were saying anyway. Even more so, he knew the attitude that was behind their words. In questioning not only the actions of the woman, but also Jesus’ silent approval of them, they were assuming that they knew better than Jesus what was right and that they were qualified to judge the service of other disciples. They were also, at least in this moment, trusting Judas, the embezzler and traitor, more than Jesus.

2. “For you always have the poor with you…”

This shouldn’t keep us from being involved in ministries of compassion (in fact, the Old Testament verse Jesus probably had in mind at the time, Deuteronomy 5:11, tells us to do the exact opposite: “For the poor will never cease to be in the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land.’”). However, it should keep us from thinking either that we can eradicate poverty or that poverty is the greatest need facing people who are poor. Yes, we should attempt to alleviate people’s suffering when we can, but it is both prideful and shortsighted to focus only on meeting the physical needs of the economically poor. The gospels speak not only of Jesus’ compassion for the sick and the hungry, but also about his compassion for the crowds who were like sheep without a shepherd. If we minister like Jesus, even our ministries of compassion should point people toward the One who sustains the hungry, satisfies the thirsty, and heals the hurting.

3. “…she did it to prepare Me for burial.”

Jesus reinforces the idea that the disciples will have the poor to minister to longer than they’ll have him by once again alluding to his upcoming death. Whether she knew it or not (and she probably didn’t), this woman was ceremonially preparing Jesus for his burial and foreshadowing when the female disciples would visit his tomb to anoint his corpse. I think this also reinforces the idea that everything, including ministry to the poor, is to be done in light of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.

4. “…what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.”

I find it interesting that despite this fact, neither Matthew nor Mark bothers to name her. This should remind us that we should not be expecting earthly rewards for kingdom actions. Any good deed done for Jesus stands as a memorial to him (which is how some think we should interpret this verse anyway) and produces fruit that far outlasts any earthly remembrance of who did it.

Things to Reflect on in Light of this Passage:

1. Do I question the motives behind the service of others? Do I think I know better than Jesus in terms of what he allows?

2. Do I serve the needy as though their physical needs are the most important? Do I pridefully think of the great impact I will have in combating those needs? Or do I serve out of obedience and as a way to also minister to their spiritual need?

3. Do I keep Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection front and center as I serve?

4. Do I expect earthly rewards for kingdom actions? Do I serve out of obedience and joy or out of an expectation that what goes around comes around?

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