Giving the benefit of the doubt

Marie Smith - Contributing columnist

Those of us churchy people are preparing this week for Holy Week, a week where we remember the last week of Jesus’ life. We read the last things that Jesus did; we explore places he walked and the sacrifices he made.

Each year many churches use the different Gospels to tell the story in different ways. I hope you will take time this coming week to find a church to go and remember one or more of the last moments of Jesus’ life on earth.

As we look forward into the week, I want to take one of those stories and look at it from a different perspective — the story of the woman who anoints Jesus with expensive perfume. The woman with the alabaster jar.

The story is found in Matthew 26: 6-13. It begins right before Jesus enters Jerusalem. A woman approaches Jesus and pours a very expensive ointment over his head.

The text says in verse 8, “But when the disciples saw it, they were angry and said, “Why this waste?” They go on to accuse Jesus of not caring for the poor, of how many people he could have helped with the money that was wasted. Now we can use our 21st century glasses to assume all kinds of reasons why they have bias and may be frustrated.

The truth is they were likely angry for lots of reasons; each person for a different reason. The disciples don’t really talk about the poor in other places in the Gospels, it’s Jesus who reaches out to the poor.

So perhaps this is just an excuse. When they saw this woman touching Jesus, pouring this expensive perfume, they assume the worst. They judged this woman as she walked in the door. They projected their anger with Jesus onto her.

We know this is true because just one verse later Judas Iscariot goes and makes a deal to hand Jesus over to the other side, hoping, most scholars believe, to force Jesus’ hand. They didn’t see the best in this woman; they saw the worst.

How often do we do that? How often we see someone carrying a backpack walking through town do immediately jump to a conclusion.

Or if we see someone riding in a scooter in the grocery store and wonder if they “really need it?” Or perhaps when we see someone’s kids running around, parents screaming, and all we can think is get control of your kids.

What would happen if instead of immediately expecting the worst in others we started out giving someone the benefit of the doubt?

Jesus lived, sacrificed, died and was raised so we would get the benefit of the doubt. So that we would be forgiven and get a second and third and fourth chance.

Can you give others the same chance? Sometimes this means stopping and saying maybe there is more to the story than I am seeing. Sometimes it means volunteering at Your Father’s Kitchen or another organization like that. Sometimes it means building relationships with others so you can find out how you might help.

We have all been on the wrong side of judgement. We have all had someone assume the worst in us. Imagine if we had been given the benefit of the doubt, or the opportunity to do the right thing?

Grace is the unmerited, pardoning love of God. We are given it by God and then can give it to others.

If you need grace, a soft place to land join any of our Wilmington or Clinton County churches.

You will be warmly greeted and immensely loved.

Marie Smith is Pastor of Wilmington United Methodist Church.

Marie Smith

Contributing columnist