Then one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot (who was about to betray him), said, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?”…. Jesus answered, “Leave her alone; she has kept it for the day of my burial. For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” (John 12: 4-8, CSB).
A group of Christian individuals and organizations recently developed an advertising campaign for American TV called “He Gets Us” (www.hegetsus.com). This group states that they are a diverse group of people passionate about the authentic Jesus of the Bible who want everyone to understand Jesus as he’s depicted in the Bible.
The campaign has purchased airtime to broadcast its commercials on national television. Recently, the campaign purchased airtime for two commercials during SuperBowl LVII at a cost of millions of dollars for each 30-second spot. The campaign says it plans to to invest a billion dollars on spreading its message of the Jesus of the Bible.
Spending millions of dollars on “messaging” has, of course, generated criticism from both the socially-conscious Christians on the theological left and the fundamentalist Christians on the theological right. The biggest criticism of the campaign, however, is its spending on marketing, which is seen as money that could be spent for funding community programs for the poor and advocacy for the oppressed.
While you could make a coherent, biblical justification for either side of the argument, fortunately Jesus addressed this issue during His earthly ministry–you always have the poor but you don’t always have me!
Matthew and Mark also include the anointing at Bethany in their gospels, though under slightly different circumstances. In Matthew and Mark it is a group of disciples, not just Judas Iscariot (though he may have been the ringleader), who express displeasure at using the perfume to anoint Jesus and not selling it and giving the proceeds to the poor. Then, Jesus addresses His response to this group, not just Judas. Mark also expands Jesus’ response to this group to include: “You always have the poor with you, and you can do what is good for them whenever you want…” (Mark 14:7, CSB).
Most Christians would agree that evangelism–making disciples of all nation–is the Great Commission of the Church. Some may do it through efforts accentuated by social activism and some may do it through multi-million dollar advertising campaigns. What’s important is that ALL Christians work toward the same goal of making disciples. Because ALL Christians are evangelicals!
The Bible is pretty clear that injustice, poverty, war, hunger, disease and all forms of human suffering will only be resolved ultimately by God. That doesn’t mean, however, that people shouldn’t try to bring relief to human suffering. And clearly, there are some diseases and forms of injustice that have been overcome as a result of the efforts of good people.
The International Congress on World Evangelization held in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1974 urged the necessity of both evangelism and social justice in the mission of the Church. The gathering produced The Lausanne Covenant, a declaration that is “intended to define the necessity, responsibilities, and goals of spreading the Gospel.” Since 1974, the Lausanne Covenant has challenged Christians of all persuasions to work together to make Jesus Christ known throughout the world.
We affirm that evangelism and socio-political involvement are both part of our Christian duty... From The Lausanne Covenant Section 5 - Christian Social Responsibility
But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without works, and I will show you faith by my works. (James 2:18, CSB)