Many years ago when I was a college student I bought an expensive brooch for a girlfriend who at the time I regarded as my sweetheart. It cost two weeks income from the part-time job I was pursuing at the time to support my studies. My mother said it was extravagant! Have you ever extravagantly given to a sweetheart?
So how does this fit in with the above reading from the Gospel which is often read during Lent? Well let’s first set the scene.
Jesus is on his final march to Jerusalem. It is just over a week before Passover and tension is building. Jesus chooses to break his journey at Bethany. A public meal is held in his honour where Martha, Mary and Lazarus are among the guests. The presence of Lazarus, who was raised from the dead by Jesus, is significant and symbolic of Jesus’ divine authority in his ministry.
Thus Jesus’ public ministry which started with a wedding feast a Cana moves towards its close with another social occasion at Bethany. But here the tone is different. Dark heavy clouds are massing on the horizon; there is a burden in the heart of Jesus. The celebration is muted. The talk is of burial rather than renewal.
As they recline at the table Mary comes forward breaking open a bottle of very expensive perfume, called nard, an oil-like perfume extracted from the nard plant grown in India, definitely not one of the lower quality brands sold in the Bethany supermarket! We’re told that it cost a year’s salary! This act is reflected back by Jesus when he washes the disciples’ feet in the upper room at Passover meal.
There are several things I would like to say about Mary’s action.
- It was an expression of Extravagant Love. Mary took the most precious thing she possessed and spent it all on Jesus. Love is not love if it calculates the cost. It gives its all and the only regret is that it has not still more to give. It is a reminder of Jesus’s extravagant love for us. He suffered the pain and agony of a cruel death so that the way was opened for us to benefit from the love which God the Father has for each and every one of us.
Perhaps we need to ask the question – how much is my love for Jesus worth? Would I sell up all for Him? Heidi & Roland Baker did just that when they gave up well-paid professional jobs and a comfortable life to obey God’s call to take the Gospel to the underprivileged of Mozambique.
2. Mary’s love for Jesus was humble. It was a sign of honour to anoint a person’s head. But Mary would not look so high as the head of Jesus; she anointed his feet. Mary is mentioned three times in the Gospels and always in association with the feet. She anointed Jesus’ feet as an expression of devoted subservience. The last thing Mary had in mind was to confer an honour on Jesus; she never dreamed she was good enough for that. True service for Jesus springs from a whole-hearted commitment to him as Lord. At the feet of Jesus is where service begins.
3. Mary’s love for Jesus was unselfconscious. Mary wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair. In Palestine at that time no respectable woman would appear in public with her hair unbound. That was a sign of an immoral woman. But Mary never even thought of that. I hope you can all remember when you were head over heels in love. Maybe you kissed and hugged your sweetheart on the bus. You lived in a world of your own. You couldn’t care less what anybody else thought. Many of us are self- conscious about showing our love for Jesus and witnessing our faith, perhaps concerned about what others might think. Mary loved Jesus so much that it was nothing to her what others thought.
.4. Mary shows a perceptive heart. This grew out of her love for Jesus. Although the full significance of her action is possibly hidden from her, she understood deep down in her spirit/soul what was to become of Jesus. In her encounters with Jesus we find her at his feet listening in adoration to what he had to say. She spent time with him and this enabled her to tune in and perceive something of the mind of Jesus. This path to the heart of Jesus is open to all of us. As we make it a priority to spend time at Jesus’ feet listening to his Word (and it needs the whole Bible to interpret his Word) we also begin to attune with the mind of Jesus and to discern how, where, and in what ways we can serve him.
5. Lastly, Mary’s loving act was fruitful. The house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment. This same act is recorded in Mk.14:9. ‘…wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told…’ This simple act of extravagant love has become a light to multitudes in every corner of the world. Sincere service to Jesus, however much it may be opposed – and it was opposed by Judas who saw it as a waste – has the capacity to touch and bless other lives. Others will be blessed when we serve Jesus, sometimes far beyond our dreams. ‘Let nothing move you as you busy yourselves in the Lord’s work. You may be sure that nothing you do for him is ever lost or wasted.’ 1Cor.15:58.
I leave you today with this thought: Jesus extravagantly gave his love for us all on the cross. How do you – and will you – respond?