Some who belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints are bothered by this, knowing that all these business ventures trace back ultimately to tithes and offerings from the Saints, and that tithes and offerings are to be handled in ways that scriptures mandate (e.g. JST Genesis 14:37-38; D&C 104:18). They are upset that the Corporate Church ignores and defies these scriptures.
When these people vocalize their dissatisfaction, a cascade of defensive denials and rebuttals sweeps in to refute them and protect the Church's image.
“Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment. Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, which should betray him, Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor? This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein. Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this. For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always.” — John 12:3-8 (compare Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9)
REBUTTAL 1: BETTER USES FOR TITHES THAN AIDING THE POOR
Which investments in lieu of which souls?
To begin with the basic assertion, if the Church is indeed being wise and spending the tithing money in ways that are more sensible or appropriate than spending them to aid the poor, let's step away from the vague assumptions and push this into the light.
Which business ventures--EXACTLY--are the ventures that are of more value than obeying God's instructions and easing the suffering and even death among the poor? When we are given the scales, and must place a business venture on one side, and the life and soul of a person on the other, which business venture is going to be of greater worth to God than the suffering soul? When a child in a poor LDS family dies of starvation--and yes, literally hundreds do annually--which profit-gaining investment by the Church was purchased with that life? The exotic game hunting preserve? The coming high rise in Philly? The massive tracts of land in Florida? Which part of the City Creek Center was more important to erect with that money, than saving the life of an LDS child, or any child?
Or to adjust the angle, precisely which lives are the ones of such necessarily small value, that it makes better sense to withhold from them the aid they are entitled to as children of God--even Church members--so that we could generate more revenue? Especially when the Lord seems to hold the worth all souls in high regard (D&C 18:10)? Which soul's suffering are we better off not easing, because the worth of that soul pales in comparison to the potential return on investment offered over here?
If you are so certain that God deems certain souls as being less valuable than business ventures, point out to me exactly which investments are worth more than exactly which souls. Name them.
Or maybe, just maybe, that isn't what Christ was saying to Judas at all.
Persecuting the faithful
Our scriptures require that we, the church members, act the part of watchdog when it comes to our leaders and their spending of tithes (D&C 26:2; D&C 124:144). Responsible consent requires familiarity and understanding. When a person is examining the spending of tithing money, and then raising a voice of concern when they see that the tithes are being used in ways that go against the scriptural instructions, that person is doing precisely what the Lord has asked of them in scripture. That person is being obedient to the will of the Lord.
Therefore, attempting to rebuke and silence them for obeying the Lord's scriptural instructions, is necessarily persecuting the faithful. To do so as the expression of one's own faithfulness is perfectly ironic hypocrisy.
So here's what this rebuttal's attempted parallel looks like:
That is certainly going to make a person feel better about supporting the Church's spending of tithes. But it is not only a staggering over-simplification, it actually involves misrepresentation and deceit to sell that parallel. Let's expand the parallels another level and clear up some twists, and see what we find.
Mary brought this expensive spikenard, and obtaining no fair-value exchange for it, expended it all for the sake of anointing the Lord (which in this situation is far more meaningful than generally realized, as will be touched on later). She asked nothing of Him in return, she received no payment, no interest on her investment. In a word, this was a sacrifice. The importance and value of sacrifice for the Lord’s sake should be understood by those who claim to follow Him. So Mary sacrificed that which she had, which was of great value, entirely to the Lord Himself, rather than aiding the poor.
What is missed completely
“This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein.” – John 12:6
But if He knew He was experiencing this anointing in preparation for His burial, then He must have known that the anointing itself was coming. Else He would not have recognized what Mary was doing and how it related to His burial. But He didn't ask Mary why she was anointing Him, or reveal any surprise when she did so, or declare that it was serving some other purpose. He declared the purpose and relative timing of the anointing, which means He knew the anointing was coming.
If Christ knew this anointing was coming, how did He know? Who told Him? Who could have told Him but God? If God told Him that this anointing was to take place prior to His death, then is the anointing not Divinely ordained? And if the anointing was Divinely ordained, then how is it anything other than an ordinance? That’s what an ordinance is, something ordained to happen. This was an ordinance.
But Jesus was not the only one who understood what was happening. Though the apostles didn't seem to get it, there was another present who was necessarily privy to what was really taking place: Mary.
We, like the apostles, tend to treat the event as though Mary is merely acting on impulse, coming in with the spikenard and being overcome with her love for Christ, and Christ just makes the best of it. This is how it looks in all our modern depictions. But that’s not what the words say.
Mary was the one who “kept” the spikenard “against the day of [His] burial.” She didn't keep it to express love or gratitude, and certainly not for its monetary value. For her to keep it for His burial requires that she knew about His coming burial, and prepared for it. The apostles still struggled with this, but she got it.
Even if Mary understood Christ was to die, what would prompt her to obtain, prepare and reserve the spikenard for this ordinance? Well, if Christ knew she had been saving the spikenard for this--as He did--perhaps that was because He's the one who told her to keep it. The idea had to come from somewhere, and He seems the most likely source.
Mary was also the one who recognized when the time of Christ's death was nigh, and that the time for the anointing had arrived, setting her even further apart from the apostles as she arrived with the spikenard.
And above all, she was the one trusted with the performance of the ordinance to prepare the Savior of the world for His death and burial, part of His Atonement. She contributed to Christ's fulfillment of the Atonement. Not one of the apostles. That is worthy of a "memorial" indeed (Matthew 26:13; Mark 14:9).
REBUTTAL 2: WITHHOLD NOW TO HELP MORE LATER
This rebuttal may or may not be used as an extension of the first. Either way, the thrust of the rebuttal is that the Church is being wise by withholding tithes from the poor now, so that through investing and generating more money, they will be able to help more poor later. If we don't do that, we might not have enough to help all the poor that we might later have.
But let's take a look at this damnably poor reasoning.
There are no guaranteed gains in economics, period. Withholding now for the sake of investing doesn't guarantee increase later, it is a gamble. Investments fail all the time. So to withhold aid now, banking on delivering aid later, is no guarantee of later success, but it is a guarantee of present failure to obey simple instructions from scripture.
Believing that the Lord is not reliable to provide sufficient for His people later shows a lack of faith in the Lord. Especially if the people were being faithful in keeping His commandments. When we obey the Lord, He has promised to prosper the people of this land (2 Nephi 1:9; Alma 48:15). Which means that yes, we can rely on Him to provide sufficiently from one day to the next, provided we do what He asks.
When, however, we determine to procrastinate obedience by withholding tithes from the poor with a promise to help them later, we lose claim to any such promise from the Lord. Procrastination is a present refusal of obedience, with a theoretical I.O.U. for future obedience. But you can't future-keep present commandments. The Lord has expressly decried this sort of behavior (Alma 34:33-35). We cannot presently refuse to obey God, and simultaneously refer to ourselves as "faithful." To do so constitutes lying, and such behavior will curse us to pass through hell and into a Telestial Judgment if we do not repent (D&C 76:103-106). So in this foolish attempt to claim to use Telestial economics to aid the future poor at the expense of the present poor, we simply refuse to be faithful, lie about it, and thereby sacrifice all claim upon the Lord for our sustenance and are left to our own devices, which devices always fail in time.
Further, when we choose to procrastinate obedience, when we say we must withhold from 10 today to help 100 tomorrow, we have no sound reason to believe that when tomorrow arrives, we won't say that we need to withhold from the 100 to aid 1000 the next day. Some would argue we've already shown this propensity, and perpetually. The most sure indicator of your future choices is your present ones. It is only in the present that things change, it is only in the present that we are being tested. How often must the Lord remind us "Choose you this day whom ye will serve" (Joshua 24:15), or "take no thought for the morrow" (3 Nephi 13:34)? Why call the man who filled his storehouses against the future a "fool" (Luke 12:16-21)? Because today, now, is the day of our proving. Who we choose to serve today is a powerful foreshadowing of who we would choose to serve tomorrow. When you choose disobedience today, you have no reason to expect anything but the same of yourself tomorrow.
If we have sufficient today to help the poor through our tithes, and we make a choice not to do so, then we will be held accountable for that choice. We've already been told that the tithes in part must go to the poor, so we will be accounted as thieves for withholding from them what the Lord has ordained as theirs. It is all His, and when we don't honor His instructions concerning His goods, we fail (Mosiah 4:22; D&C 104:14-18).
If in the future we were to run out of goods to help the poor--the fear that this rebuttal aims to combat--then we would not be held accountable for not aiding those poor. King Benjamin made it expressly clear that when we do not have sufficient to help the poor, then so long as we would help them in our hearts, we stand clean before God (Mosiah 4:24-25). Lack of resources to share does not call down condemnation from God. But abundance of sharable resources, withheld by choice, for the promise of sharing them later, calls down wrath. For we allow the poor of today to suffer and die simply because we are unwilling to aid them, lying to ourselves and saying that we value the souls of the future poor more than we value the souls of the presently poor. The present was once the future, and the future will yet become the present. What we do today, rather than tomorrow, will exalt or damn us.