Jesus told two parables in order to teach what the kingdom will be like when He leaves His disciples. It will be like ten virgins eagerly awaiting their bridegroom. It will be like servants with whom a master leaves his fortune until he returns to collect his return. When the master returns, He will judge between the virgins who are prepared and those who are not, the slaves who are faithful and those who are not, the sheep and the goats. Those who are faithful will inherit the earth. Those who are not will be sentenced to everlasting judgment in an eternal fire (Matthew 25). Now, Jesus explicitly reveals that He is the master about to leave His disciples to multiply what He has been investing in them.
When Jesus had finished all these words, He said to His disciples, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man is to be handed over for crucifixion” (Matthew 26:1-2).
Jesus reveals that He will be leaving His disciples and will be away from them during the kingdom age. It most likely surprises them that Jesus plans to give His life. He tells them that He is to be handed over for crucifixion at their most prominent celebration–Passover. Doubtless there is a connection between Passover and the sacrifice of Jesus. Passover celebrates Israel’s delivery from Egypt and the life of their firstborn. Jesus, the firstborn of creation, becomes the sacrifice that finally delivers people from their sin. Jesus is the Passover lamb.
Then the chief priests and the elders of the people were gathered together in the court of the high priest, named Caiaphas; and they plotted together to seize Jesus by stealth and kill Him. But they were saying, “Not during the festival, otherwise a riot might occur among the people” (Matthew 26:3-5).
Then, around the time Jesus is predicting his crucifixion, Israel’s elite is gathered in the court of the high priest plotting their secret murder of Jesus. Matthew wants us to know that their actions are not legal. They are hiding their plans from the people, plans to murder someone they perceive as a threat. They don’t want to upset the people. They do want to quietly dispose of this Jesus so He is no longer a thorn in their sides.
Now when Jesus was in Bethany, at the home of Simon the leper, a woman came to Him with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume, and she poured it on His head as He reclined at the table. But the disciples were indignant when they saw this, and said, “Why this waste? For this perfume might have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor” (Matthew 26:6-9).
The narrative continues to prepare us for Jesus’s death. This perfume is here used to anoint Jesus as if the body of a rich man for burial. Though Jesus would die a poor man, he would be buried like a rich man with the rich (cf. Isaiah 53:9). Here, in the same passage, we see Jesus predict His crucifixion, Israel’s elite planning His demise, and a type of anointing for burial even though Jesus is alive.
The disciples, though, see this as a waste. Can the expensive perfume not be sold and the money given to the poor?But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you bother the woman? For she has done a good deed to Me. For you always have the poor with you; but you do not always have Me. For when she poured this perfume on My body, she did it to prepare Me for burial. Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her” (Matthew 26:10-13).
Jesus reveals to his disciples that she was preparing him for burial and has done kindness to Him. He even honors her by telling her that she will be remembered forever in the gospel accounts. This woman is not frugal with respect to her worship of Jesus. It is not the bare minimum. Of all the things she could have done with the money she spent on her perfume, she decided to give it to Jesus. Her action is gratuitous and voluntary.
Jesus has just taught His disciples that the kingdom of heaven will be like 10 virgins waiting on the bridegroom and servants whose master is away. Jesus is the master, and when the kingdom of heaven is established on the earth, He will be away for a time. Jesus doesn’t tell His disciples that it is wrong to want to sell the perfume and give the money to the poor. We are to care for the poor. It is wrong of them to criticize a woman for using it to anoint Jesus before His burial. The poor are always present. Jesus is leaving and the kingdom of heaven is being established—which will ultimately be better for the poor than receiving a one-time donation. While Jesus reigns, He will be physically absent until He returns and immediately hands the kingdom over to the Father (1 Corinthians 15:24).
We are now in the midst of the kingdom, awaiting the bridegroom and earning a return on the Master’s investments. Though we serve Jesus from a different perspective than this woman because He is not physically present with us, these principles remain. Are we generous and gratuitous with our worship? When we give to Christ out of everything He blesses us with, do we give voluntarily and abundantly? I believe this woman fulfills what it means to be one of the virgins who have oil in their lamps. Matthew has carefully formatted His gospel to place parable right next to the explicit truth it is meant to convey so that we do not have to guess about meanings. There are a great many things we can do in this life, but generously worshipping and giving to Christ in the midst of His growing kingdom is by far the most fulfilling. Do you voluntarily worship and give? Is your giving to Christ gratuitous and voluntary rather than from a sense of obligation? Again I ask, do you live an oil filled life? Is the light of your lamp burning bright as we await the return of the bridegroom?