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In John 12:3-8 (NKJV)

3 Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. 4 But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, who would betray Him, said, 5 “Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” 6 This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it. 7 But Jesus said, “Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial. 8 For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always.”

Do you think the concern (made maliciously) by Judas Iscariot, is exhaustively answered by Jesus here? Is this point addressed anywhere else? Does He give guidance as to when we should use temporal goods (fragrant oil) to glorify Him, and when we should "sell them and give to the poor" as suggested by Judas?

EDIT My question could be restated as, in light of this passage, if I had a fragrant oil, should I use it to anoint the feet of Jesus or should I sell the oil to give money to the poor? I was wondering if this was addressed somewhere else in the scriptures. It relates to a criticism I often hear in the lines of "the money spent to build eg St. Peter, should have been used to feed the poor and not in expensive marbles etc."

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    My answer is "yes". What more needs to be said?
    – Dottard
    Commented Mar 29, 2021 at 10:42
  • "the money spent to build eg St. Peter, should have been used to feed the poor and not in expensive marbles etc." — Follow the money; that money didn't simply disappear. Most of it went to the quarry workers, the construction workers, etc. They in turn would have then donated or spent their money elsewhere, again distributing it to more people. Money moving from storage in a vault into the hands of ordinary people is in effect feeding the poor. Commented Dec 27, 2022 at 0:27

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Jesus did not directly address Judas’ question, perhaps because he knew what was really on Judas' mind, that he had more interest in money than he had concern for the poor:

John 12:5, 6 (NKJV)

5 “Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” 6 This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it.

Judas was quick to assess the value of the oil, but slow to appreciate the love and devotion that lay behind Mary’s gesture. Jesus, on the other hand, is always attentive to a person’s heart.

John 12:7 (NKJV)

7 But Jesus said, “Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial.

I’m not sure whether Jesus’ words answer the OP’s question, but they do shed light on the true value of any gift, and here Mother Teresa’s wisdom also comes to mind:

It’s not how much we give, but how much love we put into giving.—Mother Teresa

The OP asks, "If I had a fragrant oil, should I use it to anoint the feet of Jesus or should I sell the oil to give money to the poor?" I think the answer depends on what the love of Christ inspires you to do.

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  • upvote+1. Quote 'It's not how much we give, but how much love we put into giving' (Mother Teresa) Commented Aug 26, 2023 at 22:02
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Do you think the concern (made maliciously) by Judas Iscariot, is exhaustively answered by Jesus here?

Judas' real concern was his own pocket:

6 This he [Judas] said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it.

Does He give guidance as to when we should use temporal goods (fragrant oil) to glorify Him?

Jesus didn't say here to use temporal goods (fragrant oil) to glorify Him. More precisely:

7 But Jesus said, “Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial.

Does Jesus answer Judas in John 12:3-8?

Perfectly, despite Judas' pretension.

if I had a fragrant oil, should I use it to anoint the feet of Jesus or should I sell the oil to give money to the poor?

I would definitely use it to anoint the feet of Jesus.

"the money spent to build eg St. Peter, should have been used to feed the poor and not in expensive marbles etc."

Are you equating Jesus with the building of St. Peter?

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  • thanks, I added some clarifications Commented Mar 29, 2021 at 22:28
  • I added to my answer.
    – user35953
    Commented Mar 29, 2021 at 23:46
  • I was interpreting the passage metaphorically, anoint the feet of Jesus (building St. Peter) or sell the fragrant oil (use the money to feed the poor) Commented Mar 30, 2021 at 19:45
  • Well, Judas wasn't.
    – user35953
    Commented Mar 30, 2021 at 20:02
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Yes, Jesus answers Judas in Jn. 12:7f.

Therefore Jesus said, "Let her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of My burial. "For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me." (John 12:7-8 LSB)

Jesus is saying to Judas here that even though the spikenard is expensive and could have been sold to benefit the poor, it's being used properly at that time. There will always be opportunities to minister to the poor, but there was only one opportunity for Mary to minister to Jesus in this manner. He even further explained why, for it was in preparation for Jesus' burial.


The edit to the question has less to do with interpreting the passage, and more to do with praxis. It's essentially asking should people or the original poster spend money on lavish things (like marble decorations) or use the money for the poor. At first, the passage in question is specific to its original context (Judas and Mary), but what is relevant today is that we do still have the poor among us. A modern application might be: There was a time to minister to Jesus, and there are always opportunities to minister to the poor.

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It is easy: if you are a Rolling Stones fan in, say, Indonesia, and Mick Jagger comes to your God-forgotten town to give a concert, and you, a lousy taxi-driver gathered money and bought eventually this ticket through having deprived yourself of food and sleep; and en route to the concert you bump into a familiar beggar and instead of going to the concert, you give this ticket to the beggar saying: “Sell it for 300 bucks, you, a poor one!”

Will not this Jagger fun be a complete, a finished and a hopeless idiot?! Be it in my power, I would have sentenced him to a lifelong ban of listening “Ruby Tuesday”, “Angie” and even “Painted black”, seriously!)

And here we speak not about any rock star but about the Creator of all stars who is about to leave this life.

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Jesus did not directly answer Judas' concern (John 12:5). As John pointed out, Judas's true concern was the money of the perfume did not go into his money bag (John 12:6).

He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. (John 12:6 NIV)

Then how to make sense of Jesus' reply?

You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” (John 12:8 NIV)

Helping the poor is a work for life as a Jesus follower. This work is always. But the ministry of Jesus was about to an end, and soon the disciples would not see Him. Jesus said 'Mary saved the perfume for the day of His burial' (John 12:7 NIV), indicated that Mary did not buy it recently, she had it prepared for the day to come. Seeing the poor is always, but seeing the Lord is a precious moment to cherish.


The criticism "the money spent to build eg St. Peter, should have been used to feed the poor and not in expensive marbles etc." had a hidden twisted idea quite similar to the Judah's comment. Judah actual thought was Mary should not buy the perfume at all, the criticism meant St Peter Cathedral should not be built at all.

Did Jesus ask for dwelling in St Peter Cathedral? Using his quote; 'what did you go out to see?' (Matt 11:7,8; Luke 7:24,25,26), what did you go to the church to see? The architecture? The statues? The paints? or the Lord.

So yes, most of the money spend in St Peter Cathedral can go to the poor. But a devout church will be blessed, for the Lord said;

for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations. (Isaiah 56:7b NIV)

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God does not need our money to feed the poor. He wants us to give freely to those in need because it opens our soul to the Holy Spirit and moves us closer to Him. The answer then is "What brings us closer to God?".

Matthew 25:35-40 35 "For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink," so the living God provides us with the opportunity to serve God thru the poor. Who but Judas would question Mary for serving God directly while in his presence?

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