Summary: Mary anoints the feet of Jesus as an act of extravagant love and generosity.
Sermon for 5th Sunday In Lent Yr C, 28/03/2004
Based on Jn 12:1-8
By Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &
Chaplain of the Good Samaritan Society’s
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
The couple enjoyed dinner parties and they hosted them often. It was a chance for them to be together in their creativity. They put a great deal of time into planning the menu, shopping for the food, and preparing the various dishes. The table was very carefully set with their best dishes, flatware and linens. The centrepiece was often created from the flowers and shrubs that grew in their yard. The wines were chosen after much discussion and with great care.
Many of their friends thought all this preparation was unnecessary and even a waste of time. But for them it was an important ritual that enhanced and enriched the gatherings but more importantly their own relationship. It brought out the best in them, individually and as a couple. They looked forward to the days they spent together preparing for a dinner party. 1
This story is like today’s gospel in that some people see a story of extravagant love; while others only see a story of foolish waste. Today’s gospel is one of the most interesting stories in the New Testament. Every gospel writer includes their version of the story. In John’s version, it is sandwiched in between some (not all) of the religious leaders planning to arrest Jesus and put him and Lazarus to death and then Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem by the welcoming crowds with palm branches and shouting “Hosanna!” You also remember that in chapter eleven Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. Now, in chapter twelve, Lazarus, Martha and Mary throw a party for Jesus and his disciples—probably out of their deep appreciation for the raising of Lazarus back to life.
It is a most unusual story—in fact it is a radical story because Mary, in a surprising way, takes centre stage. In those days, it was unheard of for a woman to act like Mary. Women were not to be on centre stage—especially in the presence of men! Not only does Mary crash this dinner party by taking centre stage, but she does a most radical thing—she cracks open the seal of this jar containing very expensive perfume and proceeds to pour it all over Jesus’ feet. But she doesn’t stop there! She goes on to wipe his feet with her long locks of hair.
Can’t you hear the other eyewitnesses self-righteously criticize Mary, saying things like: “She has no respect for herself, for Jesus, or for us! How dare you Mary—dishonouring Jesus like that! It is a violation of our laws for a woman to touch a man in public—especially a rabbi!—like Mary has just done. Who does she think she is anyways!?” And then there was Judas, who complained about Mary so recklessly wasting that pound of perfume, which could have been sold for almost a year’s wages and the proceeds given to the poor. Complaints, complaints, complaints, and more complaints! People totally misunderstanding the motives, the reasons behind Mary’s spontaneous action. People looking for a reason to be offended and all-too-easily finding it. As the adage goes: “You see and find whatever you are looking for.”
I wonder, what we see and find in this story of Jesus being anointed by Mary? Do we only see the surface meaning of the story—or do we dig deeper to see and find something of the eternal meaning of this story? Let’s take a look at the story again and explore some of the deeper meanings in it.
First of all, Mary’s action of anointing and wiping Jesus’ feet in public was an act of loving extravagance, of spontaneous generosity. Webster’s dictionary defines extravagance like this: “Spending more money than one can afford, or spending foolishly, carelessly or wastefully; using too much of anything involving expense; going beyond what is reasonable, justified or normal; exaggerated, overemphatic.” Mary’s deep love and gratitude for Jesus was not expressed by carefully planned and calculated actions of expression. Hers is a love that is full-to-overflowing with spontaneous, unmeasured giving towards Jesus in response to all that he had done for her and her family. Her loving extravagance and spontaneous generosity towards Jesus was an act of sacrificial giving. Mary was not content with convenient “minimal requirements,” or half-hearted gesturing; she went all out; by anointing Jesus with all of the perfume; nearly a whole year’s wages worth; she symbolically was giving herself completely in loving service of Jesus. Her loving, sacrificial example of serving Jesus in this way teaches us that we cannot fix a price on unconditional love; in true love there is no such thing as waste; true love moves us to act with extravagance and generosity, like Mary.