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to His sacred person. But, alas! it was not so, at least there was one, even among the twelve disciples, who murmured at Mary for wasting so much money on Christ, instead of spending it on the poor.
E. Wasting it, Mamma, to spend it on Christ. What could he mean?
M. I do not wonder that such a word, on such an occasion, seems strange to you; for strange indeed it is. But there are in the world some wretched people, who look upon money as the best thing which the world contains, and who particularly grudge any thing like expense, or, as they call it, waste of money, in God's service. They will spend it perhaps freely upon their own pleasures and amusements, upon eating and drinking, upon grand spectacles or pleasant journeys, upon fine clothes or handsome houses. Nay, they will sometimes talk very charitably about the poor and their wants; even spare a little perhaps for them but any expense for the sake of religion is often, in the eyes of such persons, mere waste. Or, at best, they think that, in religious matters, what is barely necessary will do; and that there is no occasion to provide for the decency and dignity of divine things. Now just such a person was Judas, though one of the disciples of our Lord. He grudged to our Lord the honour done to Him by the pious Mary; he looked with an evil eye upon her costly affection, and exclaimed, with an hypocritical pretence of greater charity, "Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor? This he said, not that he cared for the poor;" no, we do not often find the irreligious man charitable; he who is sparing of his money in God's service, is seldom liberal of it [Second Series.]
to the poor and needy. It seems that Judas acted as treasurer or steward to our Lord and His disciples; he had the bag or purse, which contained their little stock, and was entrusted with the care of whatever was put into it; and he would have liked that the three hundred pence should thus have come into his own hands. For, sad to say, he was in the habit of taking for himself the money thus given for the use of our Lord, being, as St. John expressly says, "a thief.” Hence all his indignation; hence all his pretended care for the poor, the real fact being that he was vexed and disappointed at not receiving from Mary the box of precious ointment.
E. But, Mamma, Judas would not have gained a very great sum, for he says it might have been sold for three hundred pence, and that is not much.
M. Had it been as little as you suppose, it would only have shown us, how unwilling men are to give any thing to pious uses, and how small a temptation will draw away a miser's heart. But in reality the sum here mentioned was a large one. The penny meant is the Roman penny, or denarius, a silver coin, less in size than our shilling, but practically more in value then, being the price of a good day's labour even in harvest time; so that 300 denarii would be about equal to a labourer's wages for a whole year.
E. I see, that alters the case altogether. A hundred shillings is five pounds; therefore, three hundred would be fifteen pounds.
M. Precisely so; and you now see that if this very precious box of ointment was worth even fifteen pounds of our money, there was cause enough for the vexation which filled the covetous mind of Judas:
when he saw the whole ointment poured out upon the body of our Lord, no wonder that such a person as he should have considered it waste. You see too, on the other hand, the piety of Mary; that, like David, she would not offer unto the Lord what cost her nothing.
E. But still Mamma, if Judas had really meant to help the poor, would not that have been right? and would not Mary have been a little to blame?
M. Certainly it is right to feel for the poor, and to be ever ready to help them; but it is also right to be grateful to the Lord our God, and to be ready to honour Him with our substance. There is a time for all our duties; acts of piety have their proper seasons, so have acts of charity also. But let us see what our Saviour thought of all that had been going on. In the delicious odour that filled the house, He seems to have smelt "a sacrifice of a sweet smelling savour;" and when He understood what was passing, He said, "Let her alone, why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a good work in me; for ye have the poor always with you, but me ye have not always. She hath done what she could; she is come beforehand to anoint my body for the burying. Verily I say unto you, wheresoever this Gospel is preached throughout the world, this also that she hath done, shall be spoken of for a memorial of her." In this answer of our Lord there was the most unmixed approbation of all that Mary had done; and we can imagine also, that we see some allusion to the remoteness of the country from which the ointment was brought: wheresoever this Gospel shall be preached, throughout the whole world, shall be her memorial. As much as to say, "This precious ointment came from a distant country to be
sure, but the Gospel shall spread to a much greater distance, yea, all over the world; so that in India itself, from whence it came, shall the memorial of its being poured on my person be mentioned with honour throughout all generations." You see, Jesus was far from thinking that Mary was in any degree to blame. On the contrary, how graciously He accepts her work of faith and love. Not that He was unmindful of the poor. He speaks of them as always with us, and as having constant claims upon our kindness. The poor need our compassion, and this is one way of showing our gratitude and love to Christ; but there are other ways also which we must not neglect, for Christ expects these marks of our devotion to Him. If we really love Him, we shall be glad to see that His Gospel is maintained amongst ourselves with sacred comeliness and dignity. We shall be glad too to spread it in heathen lands, to assist to the utmost of our power in that blessed work. As Christians, we should ever be forward, like Mary, to honor the Saviour, as well as to feed the poor; and to fill the world with the fragrance of our gifts, even though the worldly minded should call it waste, and the covetous be filled with vexation. Notwithstanding the pretending economy of Judas, and all his murmuring, the name of the devout and affectionate Mary is had in everlasting remembrance. It goes forth, wherever the Gospel goes, into the whole world, as a memorial of her, and a lesson to us; keeping us ever in mind of those good works of piety, which the world may condemn, but which Christ approves.
E. But, Mamma, I do not yet understand why Mary showed her respect and gratitude to our Lord,
in this particular way, by pouring oil upon His feet and His head. Was it not a strange thing to do?
M. It would appear so to us, Edward, but the customs of different countries and different times vary much from one another: amongst the Jews, as well as amongst other nations of antiquity, and we might even add, of modern times, it was a very common thing to anoint with oil. In the Bible we find this practice continually alluded to. You remember, the Psalmist says, that God has given wine to make glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, as well as bread to strengthen man's heart; and when Moses foretold to the Israelites in the wilderness the curses which should follow from disobedience, he mentioned as one, that they should have olive trees through all their coasts, but should not be able to anoint themselves with the oil; for the olive should cast his fruit before it came to perfection. In the prophet Isaiah too we read of the oil of joy; and when our Lord was giving instruction to His disciples on the subject of fasting, He told them not to make a show of it, as the Pharisees did, by disfiguring their faces, perhaps with ashes or other signs of mourning; but "thou," our Saviour says, "when thou fastest, anoint thine head and wash thy face."
E. And now I remember, Mamma, what Jesus said to Simon the Pharisee, when He was dining with him, My head with oil thou didst not anoint"
M. And you may observe from it that anointing, and especially anointing the head, was a practice among the Jews, and a mark of respect and hospitality to a guest on receiving him at their tables. Therefore, our Lord noticed Simon's neglect of Him