Posted on 06/22/2015
Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? (John 12:5)
“What will people say?”
That can be a crippling question. To be constantly taking an opinion poll in your own mind about your actions or opinions is to be rendered silent and impotent. If you live your life trying to insure that every review is glowing, you’ll live your life anxious and disappointed. There will always be critics. And the best way to live with the critics is to be very clear about your calling.
What has God given you to do? What is the defining aim of your life? Stay focused on that and let Jesus deal with the critics.
William Tyndale was a wanted man. You would have seen his picture prominently displayed in every post office in England. He lived as fugitive for over a decade, moving about in Germany and Belgium, always looking over his shoulder.
His crime: Translating the Bible from Greek and Hebrew into English.
Tyndale fled England in 1524 and published his English New Testament in 1526. The pages were smuggled back to England in bales of cloth. After years of a cat-and-mouse existence, Tyndale was arrested on May 21, 1535 and eventually executed on October 6, 1536. His executioners were merciful: they strangled him to death before setting his body on fire.
During his imprisonment, as the weather grew colder, Tyndale wrote a letter asking that the commissary of the prison allow him to have a warmer cap and coat as well as a piece of cloth with which to patch his leggings. The tone of letter is humble, not a list of demands. But there is one request that reflects Tyndale’s full devotion to the task that had defined his life.
In addition to his request for ordinary creature comforts, Tyndale asked that the commissary “kindly permit me to have the Hebrew Bible, Hebrew grammar, and Hebrew dictionary, that I may pass the time in study.”
It is remarkable that in the final days of his life this man never wavered from one thing that made his life meaningful. We do not know if his request was granted. It isn’t likely. But his focus is clear. Tyndale was not easily bullied.
As Mary knelt low to anoint the feet of Jesus she spoke not a word. Hers is the central action of the story, but her act of devotion is carried out quietly.
The noise, the talking, comes from a critic. Judas doesn’t approve. He couches his criticism in the form of a question — a blend of common sense financial concern and social activism. The perfume could have been sold. The money could have served the poor. All of this is true, but hardly truthful. Judas is posturing to mask his own greed.
It is noteworthy that Mary never answers the critic. Jesus does that. Mary’s focus is on Jesus, and she will not be bullied or distracted from honoring and serving him.
This is not easy to do. We often hear the voice of the critic, even if only in our head. We imagine the reactions, the mocking, the unhappy assessment of what we’re doing or how we’re doing it. Asking for feedback is a good thing. Listening to hard truths from others is healthy. But living to please the critics is not.
Mary of Bethany and William Tyndale show us a focused life — a life focused on Jesus and serving him. How will you live this way today?
Grant to us, O God, the gift of a focused life – confident in who you have called us to be, clear about what you have for us to do. And make us bold to live this life, intent on serving you rather than winning arguments or fighting critics. Help us to walk as Jesus walked, we ask in his name. Amen.
Mark H. Crumpler
Pastor for Teaching and Spiritual Formation