“How are you doing? Do you need anything?” asked Judy my loving, compassionate helpmeet of so many years. (Incidentally, your time and especially your attention would be completely exhausted if I were to list even a small portion of her many selfless efforts in my behalf!)
“Sure Pop–Pop!” Says the beautiful little girl (Isabel my granddaughter) as she goes to fetch a blanket to warm her chilled grandfather.
Running into the room, the young man (David my considerate grandson) says “Can I get you a drink of water or anything?”
I receive many, many acts of kindness each day. You probably do too, if you take the time to recognize them. Some of these kindnesses are from my wife and immediate family; others from people within our church. Still others from some people less familiar. And from others who just show kindness to a quadriplegic in a wheelchair who has asked them a question in Walmart such as “Could you please hand me something from off the shelf?” Or, at the elevator at the VA hospital: “Would you please push the button to the second floor?”
Usually these acts of kindness are recognized and appreciated by even uninterested, casual observers. However, there are times when they are even misconstrued and unappreciated. Sometimes people who are involved in a situation misjudge an act of kindness. Has this ever happened to you?
“What a waste!” was the seemingly unanimous response of almost all who observed the overwhelming kindness a woman showed to Jesus, not long before his crucifixion. It is clear from the facts related in each of the four Gospels that Jesus alone understood her real motivation and intent. (The gospel writers later understood this as a preparation for his burial. You can find all the details in Matthew 26:6 ff., and the parallel passages in Mark 14, Luke 7, and John 12.)
What others consider a waste, Jesus declared to be a beautiful work. This brings up questions: What Is a beautiful work? Is every act of kindness a beautiful work? This issue is important because good deeds are often misunderstood. Not only are they not perceived properly, but also they are not understood properly. I say this for a couple of reasons. First, not everyone sees a good deed for what it is or what it might be intended. Secondly, many people misunderstand the importance of good deeds as they relate to their faith.
With regard to the issue of wrong perceptions – As far as I can see there is only one person who has the ability to discern the motives and intentions of anyone. His name is Jesus. Everyone I’ve ever known frequently fails to recognize this. We think that we know or can accurately predict the actions of others. It’s easy for us to assign motives and intentions. Sometimes we may be right, sometimes we are wrong. These misperceptions ruin and play havoc on each of our relationships.
With regard to the importance of good deeds and faith – God has clearly spoken in the Bible that no one can be good enough to have a favorable relationship with him on the basis of their own good deeds. Even if God were to evaluate us on the basis of our good deeds as compared to our sins, we would each be in deep trouble. Moreover, God is so holy and pure that he will not condone any sin. This is why we need someone to help us. This someone is Jesus, a man who lived a perfect, sinless life. Not only did he die in place of us sinners, he also kept each of God’s requirements. We enter into a favorable relationship with God when we turn from our sins (repent) and begin trusting in Jesus alone. This means that we cannot rest in anything else – especially our good works. So, Jesus’ death and perfect life are extended to us on the basis of faith, not of works. All this to emphasize that our standing with God can never be founded upon our own efforts, but only upon the grace of God given to us through Jesus Christ.
This does not mean, however, that good works/deeds, acts of kindness, doing the right thing/obedience, etc. are not important. They are crucial. They demonstrate, among other things, that we have new life – that our relationship with God is real.
I realize that I seem to be rambling on and on. I also realized I am making assertions and summarizations without giving biblical support or references. If you have any questions, just email me and I will provide them. But my point is that beautiful works are extremely important, not only to those who receive them but also to the doer.
So, getting back to the beautiful work of the lady of Matthew 26, how can you tell the difference between a good work, which will not satisfy God, and a beautiful work, which pleases God? Matthew has recorded some details which will provide insight. I have space only to mention them briefly.
- The beautiful work was done for Jesus. When she was derided by the disciples, Jesus defends her and says that she did the beautiful work for him. Our beautiful works must be directed towards Jesus. Sometimes our motivation is difficult to discern. Sometimes they are misunderstood. Sometimes they are even unappreciated. One sure test is this: the next time you think you’ve done a beautiful work for Jesus and it is unappreciated or unrecognized (he didn’t even say thank you… She took me for granted… After all I’ve done for them…) Now check out your motivation. Did you do it for Jesus or not? Often this will help us discern real motivation. Something you do for someone is not always really done for Jesus. So, repent, and rejoice that Jesus’ acts of kindness for you and to others have been counted as yours.
- The beautiful work was costly. She poured a whole jar of very expensive ointment on Jesus. That it was stored in an alabaster jar indicates its worth. In Mark’s gospel, the disciples estimated its value to be over 300 days wages! This detail is not intended to suggest only monetary value but indicates the importance of the high cost, especially of self-dependence and pride. This cost highlights the high value of love, obedience and dedication to Jesus. Remember, the cost of your relationship to God was paid by the precious blood of Jesus.
- The beautiful work was included in God’s plan of salvation. That is, the act was not only an act in itself, but was a part of God’s program of providing salvation. I imagine that while experiencing the agony and torture of his trial and crucifixion, Jesus was pleased and encouraged by catching a whiff of this fragrance.
- The beautiful work was rewarded by Jesus. The kindness of this woman was appreciated, noted, recorded and reported in the New Testament. She is mentioned in each of the four Gospels. Her example and influence remains strong.
An act of kindness is a beautiful thing! Pray for yourself and others, especially me, that our acts of kindness will radiate the supreme act of kindness of Jesus.