Matthew 26:6-11, Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on His head as He reclined at table. And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to Me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have Me. In pouring this ointment on My body, she has done it to prepare Me for burial. Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”
Christians, whom Christ has fully redeemed by grace through faith, are called to do good works (Ephesians 2:8-10). Yet what is a good work? There are two false good works among Christians today.
The first is that we do things “for Jesus.” All authority in Heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus (Matthew 28:18). Thus, what could He possibly need from you? The second false good work is that which makes you feel good about yourself. Good works can certainly uplift your spirit, but that is not the sole qualification for a good work, for good works are not about you. If I want to feel good about myself, a glass of Bourbon will do that for me. Good works are about loving your neighbour, even when you don’t want to! Good works, therefore, are full of integrity.
These words from Jesus are key: “For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have Me” (v. 11). Sermons, devotions, and Bible studies always focus on what the poor woman did. She gave her best in spite of her poverty, and the lesson continues to urge Christians to “give your best to Jesus.” Yet Jesus does not say here that He wants our best—our good works. Whilst He honours the poor woman, He makes the point to the disciples that He will not always be with them (physically), but the poor will always be among them.
Jesus’ strong implication is this: He will not always be physically present, but the poor always will be; therefore, just as this poor woman has given her best to the poor Jesus, so we are to give our best to the poor. Most kings would demand good works and treasures for themselves; instead, Jesus desires these things for our neighbours who need them.
Jesus subsequently points to His death (vv. 12-13). Jesus, the poorest of the poor, gave the most in His death. Thus, the greatest work we can perform is the proclamation of the Gospel amongst the poor, even in addition to supplying their needs.
So, what is a good work? What does your neighbour need? Aid him or her in their need, and this is a good work. A good work, then, is simply doing what you’re supposed to do. Jesus certainly deserves our good works, but He does not want them or need them. It is His message and example of grace to give to those what they do not deserve.