“Why was this oil not sold...and given to the poor?”

"Then Judas the Iscariot, one of his disciples, and the one who would betray him, said, 'Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days' wages and given to the poor?'
He said this not because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief and held the money bag and used to steal the contributions.
So Jesus said, 'Leave her alone. Let her keep this for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.'"
(John 12:4-8)
Our Gospel readings for the next three days center around Judas Iscariot and his betrayal. Today's reading gives us some insight into Judas' motivations. It also encourages us to examine our own motivations: are we more like Judas than we would like to admit?

Selective Theology

Judas pretends to be indignant at Mary's use of the costly oil to anoint the feet of the Lord, pretending that his concern is for the poor. Of course, the scripture tells us his real concern: there is still plenty of the expensive oil left in the bottle and he would like to get his hands on the money.

He couches his feigned indignation as a concern for charity to the poor. This was certainly something that the Lord and his disciples took seriously. Despite occasional attempts by unscrupulous people to use Jesus' statement about always having the poor with us to justify their own lack of charity, it is clear that Jesus not only had a deep concern for the poor, but also assisted them financially.

For example in the very next chapter of John's Gospel, when Judas rises from the table at the last supper to betray the Lord to the authorities, the disciples simply assume that he has gone to buy something for the supper "or to give something to the poor" (John 13:29). It seems to have been a common occurrence. We know from the Acts of the Apostles that the Lord's followers also continued this practice of providing for the needy after his death and resurrection.

Judas is trying to use the truth to sell a lie.

The Judas Disease

It would be wonderful if that had stopped with Judas. It clearly hasn't...the example of greedy televangelists who use the Lord's promises in order prey on the spiritually vulnerable and line their own pockets is proof enough of that. I also have to wonder about pastors like the one in Louisiana who, in the midst of a dangerous pandemic are still packing people into churches. Is it misguided faith, or are they seeing dollar signs at the thought of that collection plate?

Examples of this kind of behavior aren't always as dramatic as that...and they don't always involve money. I have seen it all to often in parish ministries: people who covet position, power or recognition and who, like Judas, come down with similar cases of 'righteous indignation' in order to justify actions that are less about Christ and more about them.

More mild cases of this 'Judas disease' are common...people who are not being completely greedy and self-serving but who are operating with mixed motives. The problem is that, if left unchecked, the 'disease' can become more acute. I have to assume that, at one point, Judas really was concerned about the poor. Certainly, many greedy mega-preachers started out as poor and pious bible students.

Then they started to slide...some quickly, some more slowly.

Just like the weeds among the wheat in the Lord's parable (Matthew 13:24-13:30), our mixed motives are like weeds growing in our hearts. It is important to weed them out now when it is relatively easy rather than wait until later when they are more deeply rooted or, worse, to have them grow unchecked until they choke the spiritual life out of us.

This week, of all weeks, is an especially appropriate time to concentrate on your weeding.

Popular Articles