Lent 5C John 12:1-8 The Extravagant Gift: Mary anoints Jesus
April 3, 2019, Wednesday 5:30 pm, 12 step Eucharist
Today’s story begins soon after Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. It is six days before the Passover. The Pharisees are looking all over Jerusalem for Jesus to arrest him. Jesus returns to a safe house in Bethany, a village on the Mount of Olives, less than two miles east of Jerusalem, the home of Lazarus, Martha and Mary, who arrange a private dinner for him on Saturday evening at the end of the Sabbath. It is a small event, the twelve disciples and a few other friends. Martha and her friend Suzanna serve the first course of olives, figs, grapes, dates, nuts, and pomegranates. Lazarus reclines around the low table near Jesus. The room is dimly lit with olive oil lamps. /
Mary quietly enters the dining area carrying a large heavy alabaster jar of costly perfume made of pure Spikennard imported from India. It must have cost Lazarus one year’s wages. In fact, it’s worth is more than their house! Mary silently sits beside and slightly behind Jesus, bows her head and does not speak or make eye contact with Jesus. She smashes the jar and pours out the thick aromatic amber-colored essential oil and massages Jesus’ feet. The whole house is now filled with this powerful sweet fragrance. Mary then spontaneously removes her headscarf letting down her long black hair and wipes Jesus’ feet with her hair.
Jesus does not say a word. Mary sits still and does not move. Their silence is broken by low murmurings among the guests who are choking on their wine.1 “Indecent. Scandalous. Risky gesture with the hair. Total financial irresponsibility.” Never have they seen such a costly perfume used to anoint someone’s feet, then wiped with the hair of a woman not married to the man!/ The guests are blind to the beauty of the offering. They only see a mess, a waste,/ but Jesus in the gospels of Mark and Matthew calls this “a beautiful thing”./ He sees an extravagant gift offered as a supreme act of love and thanksgiving./ Judas speaks the negative voice of zero sum, scarcity mentality, ”Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” Others murmur similar practical, pragmatic questions while the sweet musty aroma of priceless ointment cannot be hidden,/ as it permeates the whole house. The guests discuss the complicated emotions aroused by the gift and the giver for the rest of the evening.//
We do not normally associate smells with Christian witness except when we occasionally use incense or when we meet with the aroma of breakfast the first of each month, but this story tells us to be on the look out for them.
Typically, generosity should breed generosity. When we have been given an extravagant gift, we are moved to give more ourselves.// Occasionally going through the drive-through line at Starbucks Coffee the person ahead will pay for our coffee, and we are often inwardly encouraged to do the same for the person behind us. I remember once the barista announced that we were the twenty-fifth car in line to “pay behind.”
Sometimes, however, when we are given a gift we forget that it is a gift and see it as “mine, mine,”/ a mind-set of scarcity instead of a mind-set of abundance.2 We hold on to it, do not develop it or care for it, like the man given one talent. Sometimes we not only do not care for it, but we destroy it, and we all know what I am talking about. //
Each of you here has been given many extravagant gifts. I wish you could hear the stories of those who are here in recovery about the extravagant gift they have been given, Sobriety. Good health, education, the love of a parent or friend or child or spouse, the creation, are also all extravagant gifts that we should be telling each other about. I hope those in small groups tonight will share their stories of extravagant gifts. I hope each of us will go home tonight and share a story of an extravagant gift with a family member or friend. Thank that person for the gift if you can. If not, pay it forward. Lastly in our prayers tonight, give thanks for Mary for reminding us of the extravagant gift of love of God through Jesus Christ which is constantly offered to each of us.
1 Anne Carter Florence, “A baccalaureate Sermon: smashing Beauty,” Journal of Preachers, Pentecost 2004, pp. 18-22.
2 B. Stephen Shoemaker, John 12:1-12, Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 2, pp. 140-144.