Summary: When Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive oil, the disciples criticized her. Jesus defended her extravagance of love. We cannot anoint Jesus, but what we do for the least of his disciples, we do to him.
THE EXTRAVAGANCE OF LOVE
The average cost of a funeral is $6,600, and that does not include a vault or the gravestone. Sometimes because of guilt feelings, sometimes because of pressure from funeral directors, and sometimes because families are not thinking clearly, we spend more on paying our final respects to loved ones than perhaps we should.
On the other hand, There is a cost-consciousness that is miserly; and there is an extravagance that is neither pretentious nor self-indulgent, but an extravagance of love, not—as Paul would say—to be despised. Mary, who was always at Jesus’ feet showed such a love:
Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume (John 12:1-3, NIV).
The moment is marred by…
I. A PLAUSIBLE PROTEST (John 12:4-6)
But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it (NIV).
A. The parallel accounts show that while Judas was the instigator and motivated by greed, the others blindly joined in the protest.
1. Human nature has not changed. One vocal, disgruntled individual, regardless of his or her motive, can get a following rather easily.
2. Judas’ argument sounded so plausible, even spiritual. Of course, we know his true motive, because the Holy Spirit has revealed to John what only Jesus knew at the time Judas made the argument.
3. We should be slow to condemn manifestations of the love of others, especially during times of grief, and Mary seemed to anticipate the great grief that the others would not feel until a week later when Jesus went to the cross.
B. Driven, perhaps, by guilt some people actually go beyond their means when planning the funeral.
1. While we should always consider our motive and our means, there is a cost-consciousness that quenches the spirit, causing it to shrivel like a raisin.
2. Mary obviously had the means, and Jesus makes it clear as to her motive:
“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me” (vv.7-8)
II. THE PROPHETIC PERSPECTIVE (Mk 14:6-9)
“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her” (NIV)
A. Jesus once told a disciple, “Let the dead bury the dead. You follow me.”
1. Is there a dual standard?
2. The Jewish custom was to bury their dead on the same day they died, but there is no evidence that the man’s father was even sick, much less dead.
B. The poor, the lost, and the lonely will always be with us, but some things are immediate and must be attended to, or the opportunity is forever lost.
C. From a purely practical standpoint, the casket, the flowers, the eulogy, and even our presence could be considered a waste of resources, but the human spirit may be enriched by all of these.
III. THE PERPETUAL PRINCIPLES
A. We should be slow to condemn final expressions of love, even when they seem somewhat extravagant in our eyes.
B. The anointing of Jesus was surely more meaningful to him at this point than it would have been on Friday after he had died on the cross. One of my mother’s favorite songs was the Carter Family hymn “Give Me the Roses While I Live.”
Wonderful things of folks are said
When they have passed away
Roses adorn the narrow bed
Over the sleeping clay
Give me the roses while I live
Trying to cheer me on
Useless are flowers that you give
After the soul is gone
Kind words are useless when folks lie
Cold in a narrow bed