Text: John 12:1-8
When facing anxiety of money, what perspective does a disciple have?
What practices might help a person maintain that perspective?
Text: John 12:1-8
This was the night before Jesus' triumphal entry, the night before Jesus would ride into Jerusalem on a donkey to the praises and shouts of the multitudes, "Hosanna! Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the King of Israel!"
The days before this moment have been full of turmoil, energy and excitement that have been building toward bringing the ministry of Jesus to it's dramatic climax. Only a few days earlier Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead, calling him out of the tomb after being in there for 4 days. The news of this miracle spread and many people were looking for Jesus some to honor Him, and some to kill Him.
As the gospel story makes its way to the Cross it reminds me of Gary Cooper in High Noon. The clock was ticking and the tension building ..(pause) But that is tomorrow and this is today in today's story we meet Jesus as he having dinner with some friends.
This was a dinner of celebration at the house of Lazarus . . . All the household finery was pulled out and the meal was a feast, everyone was stuffed and they were simply enjoying each others company as Martha began cleaning up the dishes. The men were lost in conversation, as Mary who was an artist at getting out of doing the dishes, was in her room rummaging through her hope chest. She knows exactly what she is looking for. She comes back to the dining room, dodges her sister Martha and quietly weaves her way around the dinner table to position herself at Jesus' feet. Quietly she works to open a large white alabaster jar--one that had probably been sealed for her from her birth. She reaches inside, scoops out some of its fragrant contents and with circular motions begins to smother Jesus' feet. She continues scooping and wiping until there is so much on Jesus' feet she needs to mop up some of it with the only towel she brought, her hair. The fragrance fogged the room. The same room that just days before had been filled with the stench of death was now filled with the fragrance of love.
Imagine the stunned silence of the group. John tells us the twelve ounce jar was worth a small fortune- the equivalent of 300 days wages. Almost a year's income! Judas quickly calculates its value and immediately objects to her wastefulness. He claims concern for the poor. How much better it would have been had Mary given the perfume to him so he could sell it to help the needy.
Judas who knew the price of everything but the value of nothing, seeing what Mary had done and smelling the expensive perfume said, "Why Wasn't This Perfume Sold And The Money Given To The Poor? It Was Worth A Years Wages?" And the disciples joined in agreement according to the other Gospel accounts saying that that money could have been used more prudently!
Mary, I believe, understood something that Judas and the other nagging disciples missed. The understanding that everything we have comes from God and belongs to Him.
Contrast to the response of Judas whose actions betrayed his attitude of, "It may have all come from God but it's mine now!"
I was talking with one of our members the other day and asked the question,"why do some people have trouble talking about stewardship?" I think their answer was right on, it's because they believe what they have is truly their own. They earned it, they invested it, they bought it, it is theirs! It is a problem of ownership!
I read a story about the fury that was sparked at a stewardship conference at which an ecumenical group of pastors gathered to discuss generosity. One of the presenters spoke about offering a gift directly to God, and the gathered clergy yawned. Then he pulled out a $100.00 bill from his wallet (this is where I pull out a copy of a $100.00 bill and set it on fire in front of the congregation and drop it in a bowl as they watch it burn), set it on fire and placed in an ashtray, and prayed, "Lord, I offer this gift to You, and You alone. The reaction was electric. The clergy began to fidget in their chairs, watching that $100 bill go up in smoke as if it were perfume One whispered that he thought it was illegal to burn currency, another was heard murmuring - "If he is just dying to burn money, I will take any extra he has. There was nervous laughter around the room. "Do you not understand? Asked the speaker? I am offering it to God, and that means it is going to cease to be useful for the rest of us. It is His."
This is the part that Judas missed, the part where nothing he has really belongs to him in the first place and if he gave anything at all, it was a cold and calculated kind of giving that asks not how much can I give but how much will I have left for myself?
Judas wanted to measure, to calculate, while Mary wants to matter. She wants to make a difference.
And what does Jesus say to all this? He puts an end to the debate by graciously accepting Mary's gift and the heart behind it.
For many of us Judas's complaint sounds reasonable. It seems like giving that money to meet needs would have honored the Lord a lot more. But Jesus looked beyond the practical to the heart of the giver and received her worship because it was a genuine expression of the extravagant love she felt.
In the end it is Judas who gets a rebuke for His "practical perspective" and Mary is praised for her extravagance. Jesus told the woman at the well that the Father was seeking true worshipers, and Mary shows herself to be a true worshiper.
Over and over again, we see this pattern: When individuals experience the reality of God's unconditional acceptance and love, their lives are transformed, their hearts are cracked opened, and they will go to any length to express their gratitude for God's amazing grace.
So what made Mary pour her life's savings on someone's feet?
What made her use such expensive perfume, when something cheaper would have been just as effective?
Simply put what Mary did was an act of devotion. It was a gift from her heart. She wanted to give Jesus the best she had . . . That's what happens when people love.
Mary challenges us to give our all, but beyond challenging us, I think her story is meant to inspire us, to demonstrate the joy of pouring out our most precious gift upon Jesus.
Mary's act of extravagant love flowed out of her gratitude to the One who had given her brother his life back, and who will soon give His life for her.
So, how would you show your love to someone who had just saved a loved one's life?
How do we express our love to Jesus who has given His life for us?
And how can we give anything less than our best to the One who has given everything for us?
It is a challenging story that I believe causes us to pause and take a close look at our own understanding of what it means to become Generous & Joyful & Extravagant givers
This is hard stuff, because we are being called to be better, think bigger, share with everyone, and live out the call of true discipleship within our own extravagant generosity.
Are you ready? Are you ready pour out your very best for your Savior?
Each person in this place has an opportunity to do something that may be more spiritually significant than anything else we do this year. That is to come before God, the center of our worship and devotion. To break ourselves open our time, talents, treasure , , , our very best . . . and pour them out for Him for the sake of His kingdom and His church! The card you hold in your hand and will complete and offer up to God is merely the container, the vessel you use to consecrate your gifts to Him. Everything we have comes from God and belongs to Him. The kind of giving that honors God, flows from hearts of gratitude.
( s l o w l y )
And for this challenging call . . . to a deeper understanding of God's mission and ministry in the world's we can all say:
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Renee Patterson has an Master of Divinty from Luther Seminary.