300 vs. 30?

Mark 14:3-11 is stunning.  I never noticed quite how stunning.  In verses 3-9 we encounter a fantastic act of worshipful devotion, one that Jesus says will never be forgotten wherever the Gospel goes the world over.  I refer here to the unnamed woman (she’s unnamed in Mark…per John 12 it’s Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus) who breaks a “flask” of incredibly expensive “pure nard” and uses it to anoint Jesus’ head.  Mark’s narrative puts the value of this “ointment” at 300 denarii.  Realize – and this will become especially important in a moment – that a denarius was a silver Roman coin worth about one day’s wage (1).  Needless to say, this woman spends a small fortune in her profound act honoring the Messiah. 

Next to his female counterpart, Judas’ actions in verses 10-11 make one’s stomach turn.  Whereas Mark’s account of the woman, Mary, is relatively detailed and beautiful, the narrative about Judas’ is short, terse, and sparse.  There’s no need to belabor the explanation.  The facts are brutally obvious.  Judas betrays Jesus…for money.  The unnamed woman spends extravagantly to love and honor Jesus Christ.  The named disciple sells Jesus “down the river” in hopes of obtaining a price.  You can’t escape the utter wickedness of this moment. 

Now, here’s something to ponder, maybe in a “gut-busting sort of way.”  If we jump over to Matthew 26:15, we learn that the Jewish leaders set Jesus’ price at “thirty pieces of silver.”  Matthew isn’t specific, but I think it’s reasonable to suppose these pieces of silver were denarii, so that Judas received a total of thirty denarii.  Compare then the two amounts of money: 300 denarii for the woman who worships, and 30 denarii for Judas who betrays.  If we take the woman’s amount as the “standard,” then Judas betrays his Lord for one-tenth of the total.  Judas betrays his Lord for a tithe.  A tithe!  Under the Law of Moses, the law Jesus fulfilled, the law Judas would have at least given lip service to, the tithe was God’s portion of all that he gave to his people (Leviticus 27:30-33; Numbers 18:26; Deuteronomy 14:22).  Judas “owed” (as it were) a tithe to his God.  Instead, he betrayed his God for a tithe.  Judas took to himself what rightly belonged to God.  Do you see the wickedness and high-handed rebellion in this moment?  Judas exchanged the glory of God for his own glory (Romans 1:23), and the result was his death (Matthew 27:5)!

It’s easy to read Mark 14:3-11, see this devastating comparison, and turn away mostly unscathed by the encounter.  But, isn’t that missing the point?  Shouldn’t the stark contrast between Judas and this woman raise questions in our minds?  Who am I?  What’s my response to Jesus Christ?  The questions get very practical, very quickly, including as we think about money: Do I spend extravagantly (whatever that means) in honor of Jesus Christ?  Or, do I “sell” my Lord in a ruthless exchange of glory that seeks for myself what rightly belongs to him?  How will my actions be remembered in future days when generations yet to come tell the story of the Gospel spreading the world over?  How will yours?


Note: Scripture quotations come from the English Standard Version (ESV). 

(1) See “Denarius” and James Swanson, A Dictionary of Biblical Languages: Greek New Testament, #1324. 

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