March 21, 2010: A Time For Wasteful Extravagance

The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
Lent 5

Now why would Mary go and pour a year’s worth of wages on Jesus’ feet? That’s what a pound of nard would have cost of her. Judas does have a point. She could have sold it and funded the soup kitchen, stocked shelves at the food pantry, and clothed the poor in Jesus’ honor. After all, Jesus did say what we do for the least – we’re doing to him. Mary must have missed the lesson that day.

People buy flowers at the time of a death to be sent to the funeral home. Five days later the flowers are dried up and tossed out. Couldn’t that money be spent better? One Christmas I told my two nephews that I made a contribution to the children’s home in each of their names. I was pulling their chains to see how they would react. I didn’t really do it, but I was convincing.  I wondered – would a gift card to Best Buy really put Christmas over the top for the boys? Their looks said, – “Uncle, what planet are you from?”

Maybe Mary just gets carried away. Some days earlier, her brother Lazarus dies. Jesus arrives and calls him up and off the shelf of the family crypt where he’d been lying dead for days. Is Mary expressing her gratitude to Jesus? Or, perhaps Mary wants to make a splash in front of others – more thoughtful, sensitive and loving than sister Martha, whose biggest concern was getting the salad fork placed correctly at the dinner party for Jesus. The sweet fragrance of perfume competes with the aroma of casserole and biscuits fresh from the oven. Earlier Jesus praised her for being so attentive to him – when Martha was too busy. But couldn’t Mary quietly honor Jesus by selling the stuff and giving a donation to the poor in his name? “No,” according to Jesus. “Leave her alone. You’ll always have the poor. But me, not so.” Jesus lines up on Mary’s side.

John whispers an aside off stage to let us in on a secret. Judas is playing the “give to the poor” card. John says he’s been embezzling from the disciples’ bank account for his private purposes. What a deposit Mary could make, and then Judas could write checks to the poor – and himself.

What prompts Mary’s generosity? Jesus says she anoints him for his death and burial – at least that’s how he sees her act. How does she know what the others miss? Mary sees an extraordinary love in Jesus that’s already touched her inner self, deeply within. If, as he proclaims, Jesus reveals God’s heart, loves and forgives without limits, as he demonstrates, for some that’s blasphemy. Saying God’s love is so extravagant can get a person killed. A costly gift is Mary’s response of gratitude for such a costly love. Jesus will soon die to show that no circumstance of the human journey – even suffering, death, and a tomb puts us out of his reach. Jesus doesn’t spare us from pain and grief. He enters the tombs of death and suffering with us. Mary sees what wondrous, generous love he has for all. His love prompts her act of love back. Do we see, too – not just see, but throw ourselves at Jesus’ feet as well? If we see, how are we responding? Just hearing the story, coming occasionally and sitting on a pew, and tipping our hats to Jesus is not exactly a response of extravagant gratitude. When we finally get it – when light breaks through our darkness – then we can’t help but be overwhelmed by his love, dying to ourselves so he can raise us up; giving up our life to receive his. Judas is so self-absorbed, he misses Jesus, even though at a certain level, he knows him. Food for our thought.

If you take one thing from this story, realize the extravagant passion God has for you. No place – no sin – no rejection or stupidity on our part will finally keep Jesus from the tomb that holds us hostage. I believe even Judas cannot finally escape God’s redeeming love. You and I may not realize in all circumstances God is ever present – faithfully reaching for us, never missing in action, though we can be. Divine love ultimately breaks through the walls of our sin and alienation from God, ourselves and one another, transforming us, and raising us into a new creation.

On this Lenten journey God invites us to stop and smell the aroma of sweet perfume filling a room in our hearts and minds where Mary is anointing Jesus for burial with her love and gratitude. She recognizes divine life that arrives in flesh like us, hangs out with us, so no one has to feel lost and alone anymore. No power will finally thwart the onslaught of God’s love and power to heal and to save. When we get it, we’ll follow Jesus with more than our lips. When we get in our hearts – in here, our next move turns us outward, as a response of gratitude to the Holy One. Then we are ready to care for the physically and spiritually poor – who are, always, with us. We embody the love that has found us – and offer its sweet aroma into all the world. In baptism we are buried with Jesus. In him we have been raised to new life. Get it? Then let’s live it!


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