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The higher the monkey climbs, the more he shows his backside!

March 12, 2016

I love to praise people. I love to be able to thank them for something good that they’ve done. Not lies or half-truths but genuine praise. People do amazing things all of the time and it so easily gets ignored:

  • The extra hour spent cleaning up after an event.
  • The smile and good service at the checkout.
  • The time spent patiently listening to someone who just wants to talk.

I love to notice these things and be able to give praise where it is due. But there is something very wrong with me – I don’t know how to handle praise when it comes my way. I’m split in two – I like to know that people think well of me (I’m only human) but at the same time I just do what I do, so it feels wrong to take the credit. I could say that I don’t deserve it, it is just the Spirit’s work in me – it’s true but that sounds way to pious, pompous even. Perhaps I’m just English and it’s that innate distrust of ‘showing off’.

I’m from Yorkshire where this is summed up in a wonderful little phrase, “The higher the monkey climbs, the more he shows his backside!” The message is clear, do the right thing but don’t get above yourself, and never show off. This is just self-evident to me but to my American friends it makes no sense at all. It does not compute. Then the world would be boring if we all thought the same way.

So, with this background in mind, you may be able to picture my reaction when I read John 12.1-8. I won’t try to summarise it, the little story is already concise and well crafted, so here it is:

Six days before Passover Jesus went back to Bethany, where he had raised Lazarus from death. 2 A meal had been prepared for Jesus. Martha was doing the serving, and Lazarus himself was there.

3 Mary took a very expensive bottle of perfume and poured it on Jesus’ feet. She wiped them with her hair, and the sweet smell of the perfume filled the house.

4 A disciple named Judas Iscariot was there. He was the one who was going to betray Jesus, and he asked, 5 “Why wasn’t this perfume sold for three hundred silver coins and the money given to the poor?” 6 Judas did not really care about the poor. He asked this because he carried the moneybag and sometimes would steal from it.

7 Jesus replied, “Leave her alone! She has kept this perfume for the day of my burial. 8 You will always have the poor with you, but you won’t always have me.” (Contemporary English Version (CEV) Copyright © 1995 by American Bible Society)

I hate showing off and so my first reaction to that story was, well Judas has a point. Why ‘waste’ all that perfume? I suspect for a moment the other disciples were probably with him too, even I suspect her sister Mary. But then Jesus turns it round. It is a beautiful thing that Mary has done. Then the penny dropped. I suddenly remembered who Jesus is. I suddenly realised that Mary was following the prompting of the Spirit and offering everything to Jesus. She wasn’t calculating profit and loss, she just knew that this was right and she acted. The penny dropped: it is never wrong to be extravagant with God!

It is never wrong to be extravagant with God. Perhaps I need to let go a little more. I don’t like showing off, but sometimes I need to accept that the exuberant gesture is the right one, the Spirit filled one. I need to trust that voice inside, the prompting of the Spirit. I need to practice acting on it. Sometimes I may get a rebuke like Peter, when Jesus said, “Get behind me Satan”. But if I don’t act on that voice I’ll never learn to recognise it clearly. So I need to take the risk and act. When I get it wrong, well, then I say sorry and bring it to God, and let the Spirit do a little more fine-tuning in me. But when I get it right, it is worth it to hear Jesus’ praise or picture his smile: even if the praise makes me squirm a bit!

So my note to myself for today: It is never wrong to be extravagant with God!

  1. Dianna permalink

    Well spoken Nigel. Couldn’t have said it better myself!

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