Tuesday, March 1, 2016

An Extravagant Gift of Love

     When we hear the word extravagant, most of us think of a very pricey item over and above what one would expect.  A picture of a young man buying a very expensive gift for the love of his life comes to mind; or we might think of the rich and famous with which to associate this term.  However, when my pastor used it in a sermon as he told the story of Mary the sister of Lazarus, many new thoughts blazed through my mind.  What did this woman do that forever linked her to the Gospel story?
     In John 12:1-8, we read:  "Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.  So they gave a dinner for him there.  Martha
served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with Him at the table.  Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair.  The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.  But Judas Iscariot, one of His disciples, (he who was about to betray Him), said, 'Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?'  He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.  Jesus said, 'Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial.  The poor you always have with you but you do not always have me.'"
     Both the Gospel according to Matthew(chapter 26) and the Gospel according to Mark (chapter 14) have this same story presented but no name is given for the woman involved.  All three stories remark about the extravagance of this gift which is given to Jesus.  In Matthew and Mark, however, it is mentioned that the head of our Lord was also anointed, and in Mark 14: 9, Jesus said:  "And truly, I say to you, wherever the Gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her."  This is a remarkable statement and one worth noting.
     Looking at the passage in John, it is important for us to reflect on the background of this woman who gave her best to the Lord in an act of humility and devotion.  Mary and Martha are the sisters of Lazarus and resided at Bethany.  Jesus had come to visit (as recounted in Luke 10).  Martha busied herself with a meal preparation but Mary sat at the feet of Jesus to hear Him teach.  When Martha complained to the Lord about Mary not assisting her, Jesus gently told her that Mary had chosen the best part.  Later on, we see both sisters again when their brother Lazarus died.  Following this momentous event, we do not encounter them until this meal at Bethany six days before the Passover.
     What Mary did at this meal was scandalizing to Judas Iscariot and the other disciples.  She took an expensive perfume equivalent to a year's wages and poured it on the feet of Jesus.  Then, she took her hair and wiped His feet.  We can only speculate what was running through her mind, but ultimately it was an act of devotion.  She had broken many traditions of the day; first, by sitting at the feet of Jesus as a disciple in the earlier visit to their home, and secondly, by letting her hair down to perform an act of servitude.  Neither act was acceptable for a Jewish woman. This devotion and love for our Lord was extravagant.  Jesus noticed her genuine heart and proclaimed that she would never be forgotten.
     On the opposite end of this spectrum is the grumbling, Ebenezer Scrooge response of Judias Iscariot the treasurer of this band.  He took no joy in her sacrifice.  He saw it only as a monetary loss because he really did not care about the poor.  No, Judas was a thief himself as the Scripture recounts.  His hand was in the till so to speak.  He would have loved for Mary to sell the ointment and give the money to him as treasurer.  He could have used it for his own desires as he had before.
     Within this short 8 verses, we see the contrast between the heart forever changed by an encounter with the living Lord, and the miserly, empty clutching heart of a man who would betray the Lifegiver for 30 pieces of silver.  Mary gave her best in an extravagant display of her love.  Certainly, she was thankful for the restoration of her brother to life, but she had also had a true encounter with "Emmanuel"...the God with us Messiah promised by all the prophets.  How could she not give Him her all?
     In the same manner, we need to ask ourselves if we have given the Lord our very best.   After all, His display of extravagant love was to step from the height of heaven to become man and suffer a tortuous death so that we might have eternal life through Him.  His sacrifice went beyond perfume or pretty gifts. He gave His very life for us.  So what, we may ask, can we give Him in return?  The Apostle Paul writes the answer in Romans 12:1:  "I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship."  Nothing less, than giving ourselves in utter gratitude for our salvation by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, is our due.
     Because He first loved us with such extravagant love, we are now free to offer ourselves to Him completely just as Mary did in her act of devotion.  She did not know what would occur in six days, and that she was preparing the Lord for burial.  She only knew that she had been changed by her encounter with her Messiah.  She gave the best that she had.  We are called to do no less.  Our time, our talents, our love and our gratitude all belong to Him.  This is what extravagant love really is all about.  Selah!

No comments: