The Most Offensive Thing Jesus Ever Said

Some people have a false picture of Jesus where he is this super nice guy who cradles lambs in his arms and tells people to be kind to each other. While certainly Jesus was compassionate and full of love, the gospels also portray him in a way that is far more complex than that. After all, the Bible records Jesus getting angry (Mark 3:5), confronting sin (Matthew 23:13), and even overturning tables in the Temple (Matthew 21:12).

Jesus was known to get into trouble for saying a lot of controversial things. It was his claim to be God that was the most offensive to the Jews of his day. Jesus claimed divine origin in a number of ways, saying he came from heaven (John 6:38), was able to forgive sin (Mark 2:5), existed before the time of Abraham (John 8:58), and made himself equal with God (John 10:33). These repeated statements are the reason many sought to execute him on terms of blasphemy, something which ultimately happened via crucifixion.

I think it is fair to say that claiming to be God is by far the most audacious claim Jesus ever made, and it would have been the ultimate offense in the midst of a Jewish society. Yet in today’s day—a far more secular environment than the one in which Jesus lived—many people simply fluff off Jesus’ claims to deity as the words of a delusional person. They are not exactly offensive, but rather just silly or ridiculous.

In our modern-day times, I think there is something else that Jesus said which would be considered much more offensive. Here in the West, we love our social justice causes, and we make supporting them the pinnacle of virtue. Relief of the poor and helping those less fortunate is seen as one of the greatest goods a person can do. With that in mind, consider this account and what Jesus says about the poor in John chapter 12.

[1] Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. [2] So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. [3] Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. [4] But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, [5] “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” [6] He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. [7] Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. [8] For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.” (John 12:1-8)

The ointment that Jesus was anointed with is valued at around three hundred denarii. A denarius was a day’s wage in Bible times, so if you estimate a day’s wage today as being about $100-150, we are talking about ointment valued at about $30,000-45,000! This was expensive stuff, and Mary uses it on Jesus as an act of worship. It should not surprise us that some of those present considered this to be a poor use of the ointment, since it could have been sold and the money used for relief of the poor. Considering tens of thousands of dollars were at stake, it was no small decision to make!

Now, the obvious question arises: Was it right for Mary to use the ointment on Jesus instead of using it to help the poor? A costly item like that could have helped a lot of people in some significant ways if used for charity. What does Jesus think about this act?

His exact words: “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.” Put another way, he affirms the use of the ointment on himself instead of being sold and the money distributed to the poor. Jesus clearly believes it is right for Mary to use it on him instead of charitable works. Make no mistake about it, Jesus is making a moral judgment here. He considers it morally right for Mary to worship him in this way instead of helping the poor.

Stop and think about that for a minute. If any other person acted in a similar way, we would consider it the pinnacle of arrogance and selfishness. If I considered it better for you to spend several thousand dollars doing something nice for me instead of helping the poor, you would likely be repulsed at my suggestion. You’d think I was an egomaniac and callous towards those less fortunate. So ought we to see Jesus this way, too?

I think that in our day and age, this is the most offensive thing Jesus ever said. Jesus considered it a better use of thirty or forty grand to anoint himself one time (in preparation for his burial) than to do considerable help for those less fortunate. His reasoning is that the poor will always be here, but he will not. Anointing Jesus before his burial is a one-time shot, while doing charitable work can be done anytime. This is Jesus’ reasoning for supporting Mary’s actions. He does not outright condemn helping the poor, however. In fact, in the parallel accounts of this event in Matthew 26:6-13 and Mark 14:3-9, he actually encourages it. But he still believes it better to be anointed than to sell the ointment and distribute the proceeds among the poor.

There are only two responses we can have to this. The first is to be utterly disgusted by Jesus’ value system. We could see him as a repulsive narcissist who thinks way too highly of himself and ought to be scorned for his immorality. Or, we could take seriously his claim to be the Son of God who has come to earth to die for the sins of man. In such a case, we should actually expect for him to be given special treatment as the King of the Universe and Creator of all.

But make no mistake, the one thing we can’t be is indifferent. We can’t look at the life and words of Jesus and shrug it off or take the middle-ground approach. Many people who are not Christians still respect Jesus as a good man or moral teacher. Yet this is the one option Jesus never intended to leave open to us. When someone says that you can help the poor another day but drop $30,000 on them instead, you either have to despise their audacity or see them as actually worthy of such a claim on truly remarkable grounds. Either Jesus is a gross con-man to be utterly scorned, or he is the God-man to be worthy of our total allegiance.

As a Christian and follower of Jesus, I consider him to be the latter. I believe Jesus to really be God in the flesh, and that what the Bible says he said and did are accurate. I say I believe this while understanding what is at stake. I don’t take that kind of thing lightly. When I read the gospels, I see a Jesus that is either true and worthy of praise, or false and worthy of the most fierce rejection possible—because if Jesus is lying or is not who he says he is, then the absolute last thing he should be is praised. It is all-or-nothing for me, and that is really the only options I see as being valid.

I agree with Jesus that it is right for Mary to anoint him, but ONLY if he really is God. If not, he ought to be despised for such a statement. I believe it is right for Jesus to be valued as Mary did because if he really is God, then he is of higher value than us. Consider this analogy. If royalty were to visit your home for dinner, you would likely put out your best linens, use the expensive dinnerware, buy a fancy new outfit, and spare no expense on the meal. You would likely drop a ton of money that you otherwise would not have, because this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And no one would reprimand you for taking such actions instead of donating that money to the Red Cross. It is an understandable and proper use of the funds. If so in a case like that, how much more so if God has come to earth to die in the place of sinners!

Jesus is offensive. He’s not the cuddly nice-guy so many portray him to be. And as the most important and most influential person who has ever lived (by either religious or secular standards), one would be wise to consider him carefully. Either he’s the mastermind of the biggest scam ever pulled off, or he really is divine. I have weighed the evidence as carefully and seriously as I can, and believe that Jesus is God. This belief radically changes who I am and what I do with my life, often at the expense of coming across as a weirdo to people I know and love. But I understand that with Jesus it is all-or-nothing. There’s no compromise in the middle. I’m not even asking you, the reader, to agree with my conclusions. All I’m asking you to do is think about it. Jesus is simply too offensive to be ignored.

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