Monday, October 19, 2009

Contentment: Don't Let Your Love of Money Be More Important Than Your Love of God (Matthew 26)

Preparation: The following notes and ideas are solely for you to use as you prepare to teach this week. Feel free to use them as you wish or don’t use them at all!

Observations from the story:

Matthew 26:6-16 is a contrast of two drastically different views of money (more details of this story can be gleaned from Mark 14 and John 12. Although there are some details in the three accounts which seem to be in conflict, they are not unresolvable, and enough similarities exist to allow us to reasonably assume we have two perspectives of the same event). Mary spent her money to honor Jesus; Judas betrayed Jesus to gain money.

1. Mary’s Story

  • The value of the perfume – According to Matthew, the perfume was “very expensive”. According to John, it was worth a “year’s wages”. In other words, it was worth the equivalent of a very luxurious new car. You can imagine that the “wasting” of such a valuable commodity would cause quite a stir.

  • The act of pouring the perfume – Significant symbolism can be seen in Mary’s act of pouring out the oil on Jesus. First, by anointing him, she is identifying Him as royalty. Second, by washing his feet, she identifies herself as a servant/slave to Jesus. Third, by breaking the jar, not just pouring a portion, she is demonstrating a 100% devotion to Jesus. Fourth, a woman in public with undone hair would have been considered to be one with “loose morals”. By washing Jesus feet with her hair, Mary was demonstrating her commitment to honoring Jesus in spite of cultural expectations and at risk to her own reputation.

  • The response to Mary’s act – Judas responded to Mary’s act by wondering why the perfume hadn’t been sold so that the money could have been given to the poor. Likely, his motives were not pure, as we know he was dishonest with the disciples money. However, it appears that the other disciples at least agreed with Judas (likely with honest intentions), because Matthew says the disciples (plural) were indignant. Since we have the whole story, it is easy for us to pass judgment on the disciples wrong response, but I wonder if in the same situation we might not have had a similar response, calling into question whether Mary’s act was “good stewardship”. How we respond to an apparent waste of money is a window into our true beliefs about the value of money and the value of others. We are sometimes far more judgmental toward those who waste money than we are toward those who waste many other things.

  • Jesus’ teaching in the moment – Jesus saw Mary’s act as a “beautiful” thing. Rather than debating what the highest priority for money should be, he taught that Mary should be commended for her sacrifice rather than scolded. By saying, “the poor you will always have with you”, Jesus was not downplaying the importance of taking care of the needy; He was trying to express the significance of the moment and the impending events. Even though the disciples didn’t fully understand, Jesus was telling them that they would be able to take care of the poor the rest of their lives, but their time with Him was coming to a close. Mary’s act was an example of the importance of embracing our relationship with Jesus when given the opportunity, we don’t know when that opportunity will be gone (whether it be death, rapture, or a hardened heart).

2. Judas’ Story

  • The value of Jesus – Judas agreed to betray Jesus for only 30 pieces of silver. This would have been the equivalent of three months wages. In other words, Judas was willing to sell Jesus for one-quarter the cost of the perfume Mary had poured out. To say that Mary valued Jesus 4x more than Judas is to greatly oversimplify this story. The sad truth is that while Jesus was king and master to Mary, he was nothing more than a commodity that Judas was willing to buy and sell.

  • Judas’ act of betrayal – Even though the chief priests were looking for an opportunity to kill Jesus, they did not approach Judas with this proposal. He approached them. His question to them is a window through which we can understand his motivation. He said, “What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?” Judas’ intention was simply to make a profit. If he received a high enough offer he was likely willing to do just about anything, including betraying Jesus.

3. What Does This Means for Us?

  • The temptation for Mary would have been to be more concerned about what the disciples thought about her use of money than with what Jesus thought about her use of money. We need to avoid the same temptation to give in to the pressures exerted by our culture regarding the “appropriate” use of finances. The media, our neighbors, and sometimes even our friends and family bombard us with the philosophy that “we work hard for our money” so we ought to use it to make our own lives easier, more fun, and full of possessions.

  • Nothing could be better than having Jesus say that our use of money is “a beautiful thing for him”.

  • How we use our money is a demonstration of what is truly important to us. When we choose to selfishly pursue riches and profitability instead of sacrificing for Jesus sake, we are not all that different from Judas. (This is a difficult truth, as we have no villains worse than Judas. No one wants to be like him.)

  • These passages do not teach against wealth, nor do they teach that wealth and riches are inherently wrong. Although some people misunderstand James, he did NOT say, “money is the root of all evil”. He DID say, “the love of money is the root of all evil”. Our love for money is best reflected by what we will do to gain money and how hard we will work to hold on to money. For Judas, loving money meant he was willing to do anything in order to get money. For Mary, holding on to money was not important, it was clearly secondary to honoring Jesus. We need to regularly evaluate the lengths to which we go to earn money, and our willingness to part with money.

Central Theme of Lesson: Don’t Let Your Love for Money Become More Important Than Your Love for God!

Sharing Life:

  • Remember, everyone should at least know everyone else’s names. Take some time to make sure this is the case before you move on.

  • Ask the group members if any of them have a “story” to share from the past week. If appropriate, take a moment to pray for the “life situations” of the group members as they are revealed (remember, you’ll take more time later for group prayer).

  • Have as many people as possible answer the following question: “Imagine you received $50,000 cash in the mail today. How would you spend it? Be as specific as possible.”

Formative Time:

This time is designed to be a discussion driven lesson, every question can be answered by one or several students. You may need to supplement or change these questions as necessary for your group. You are free to use these questions in any way you deem appropriate for your class..

  • As a group, read Matthew 26:6-16.

    • Explain that the account in the gospel of John identifies the key players in this story as Mary and Judas.

  • How do you think you would have reacted if you had been at the party when Mary poured out the perfume? (be honest!) Explain your answer.

    • I would have laughed at her for wasting so much money

    • I would have been disgusted because the money could have been used better

    • I would have quietly wondered if she was mentally stable

    • I would have stood up and clapped for her courage

    • I would have been moved by her devotion

    • I would have run home to get my own perfume bottle

  • Why do you think the disciples responded the way they did?

    • Point out that while Judas may have had impure motives, the other disciples likely thought her money could have been put to better use. Discuss how you think the disciples might have responded after Jesus complimented Mary (this will be just guessing as we have no account of the rest of the conversation).

  • What symbolism can we see in Mary’s act of devotion? What was she saying about Jesus by anointing him? What was she saying about herself by washing his feet (John version)? Why did she break the jar open instead of just pouring it out?

    • Use the study notes above to prompt answers to this question.

  • Contrast Mary’s view of Jesus with Judas’ view of Jesus.

    • You may get some different good answers on this if people are willing to think and share honestly. The key is that Mary was willing to sacrifice herself for Jesus and Judas was willing to sacrifice Jesus for himself.

  • What do you think caused Judas to be willing to betray Jesus? Did what happened at the party influence Judas to go through with his betrayal? Why or why not?

    • The Bible isn’t clear about exactly why Judas went to the chief priests. We know at least part of it was for the money, but there were likely other factors as well. Many people believe that he realized he had been wrong about Jesus’ agenda. As a group, explore why each of the gospels places these stories next to each other.

  • Judas was willing to buy and sell Jesus. How are Christians sometimes guilty of doing the same thing?

    • Suggest that sometimes we see Jesus as a “thing” that will provide a service for us, whether it be fixing a tough situation, healing an illness, relieving stress or tension, or getting us out of a jam. When we only turn to Jesus in the bad times, he is not our king and master (as he was to Mary), rather he is an elixir we have purchased from a snake salesmen.

  • How does our use of money demonstrate our values and priorities? Is this a good or bad thing? Why?

    • This question requires difficult honesty. Remind your group that it is always hard to call your own motivations into question, especially when you know the answer might reflect poorly on you. However, this is also a great opportunity to grow spiritually.

  • How can a proper view of money lead to contentment?

    • This is the closing question because the assumption is that each person can take their answer to this question and begin applying it to their life. Encourage everyone to think about this question and to come up with one or two goals they want to work on throughout the week regarding their ideas and activities related to money.

Caring Time:

  • Ask the group members if anyone would like to share something they’ve been doing differently in their life recently that demonstrates spiritual growth. Encourage each other to set “formative” goals for the coming week.

  • Take time for group members to share prayer requests.

  • Pray for the given requests. Try to vary the way you do prayer time from week to week so it is more than just “vain repetitions”. Some ideas are:

    • One person prays

    • Pray for each request as it is given

    • Sentence prayers around the circle

    • Partner (or threes) prayer

    • Silent Prayer

    • Have group members write prayers out and then read them.

    • Etc… (you’re creative!)

  • Remind group members of their commitment for the week and encourage them to carry it out!

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