Mark 14 (NASB)
3 While He was in Bethany at the home of Simon the leper, and reclining at the table, there came a woman with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume of pure nard; and she broke the vial and poured it over His head.
4 But some were indignantly remarking to one another, “Why has this perfume been wasted?
5 “For this perfume might have been sold for over three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.” And they were scolding her.
6 But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you bother her? She has done a good deed to Me.
7 “For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them; but you do not always have Me.
8 “She has done what she could; she has anointed My body beforehand for the burial.
9 “Truly I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.”
10 Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went off to the chief priests in order to betray Him to them.
11 They were glad when they heard this, and promised to give him money.
Whenever people say that our churches ought to be bare boxes, useful as a place to gather, and no more, and that we ought to put all the money we would have spent beautifying the place on the poor, I think of this passage.
Economically, poverty is a black hole into which money disappears. I know, because I have been reduced to poverty in more than one phase of my life. I am grateful for those who contributed to my physical wellbeing in such cases, and there were plenty of them.
But I am equally grateful that I can walk into St. George’s this Sunday, along with people much wealthier than I who have contributed to the church in a way I may never be able to, and worship in a place where the very walls and ceilings are shaped in such a way as to speak to me of the presence of God. I don’t think that even the Regulative Principle could offer a good reason as to why a box is holier than a dome, other than that the box means nothing, while in the language of architechture the dome means heaven.
The poor we always have with us – but the only place where Christ’s body is presented to us at this time in history is at Church. How can we pour out our wealth on his body now that he has ascended? I know of only two ways: take care of this human race with which he clothed himself, and revere the place where people eat his body and drink his blood. The funny thing about it is that in its own way, beautifying the place of worship also feeds the poor. It feeds the spirits of the poor, and it feeds the spirits of those on whose compassion the poor depend for physical life.
And that last statement is how a reader can know what I mean by beauty. If they are thinking mere aesthetics, then they have a lot of reading and thinking to do. Beauty is the very glory of God.