I look at a story like this and ask — what is this doing here? John has included this story to make some sort of point. What is going on?
Mary buys an expensive jar of ointment to anoint Jesus’ feet. Judas Iscariot objects — give the money to the poor. John says Judas was only being greedy — he was the treasurer and was embezzling funds. Jesus blesses Mary’s action — this anointing is an anointing for burial — a prophetic act heralding his crucifixion.
It seems likely to me there was tension in the early Christian community about money and about the common purse. Luke mentions this in Acts. The disciples saw a common purse — sharing all possessions in common — as the most faithful application of the gospel. Problems developed. In Acts we hear that the disciples — Peter, James, and John were not being just in their distribution of funds to the poor. The poor they knew personally were getting the lion share. And here in John — the call to not waste money on expensive extravagances is placed on the lips of Judas Iscariot – the one who betrayed Jesus — and just for good measure — is accused of theft.
Clearly there were deep resentments about money running through these communities.
How we make out money and our expenditures spiritual is an interesting question for me. I look at my life — I look at what we have done without — and the extravagances we have spent on. My television set is 18 years old. I do not own a car. But I do buy a new computer every few years. I pay for high speed internet connections. I buy books. I do not tithe. We go to restaurants fairly frequently. I eat too much chocolate. The choices we make about how we will spend our money reflects who we are.
You can weep and fast and pray but who you are and what you believe is writ large on your VISA statement.