Summary: The sacrifice of Jesus Christ requires a response of the most extravagant love and devotion; a spending of our lives in true discipleship.
Are there some Clue fans out there? Anyone who’s ever played the game, or perhaps watched the movie? I grew up playing Clue. I loved Clue because I was good at it. Well, either I was good at it, or my parents held back a little bit and “let me win.” But I don’t think that was the case. At any rate, those of you who have played Clue or watched the movie are familiar with the cast of characters; Professor Plum, Colonel Mustard, Mrs. White. And you surely know the personality traits of each character. To some extent, it is knowing these traits that makes Clue more interesting—a colorful cast of characters gathered for a party in a lavish mansion. And this is nearly precisely what we have in this account from John—a colorful cast of characters gathered in a home for a great dinner in Jesus’ honor. As we explore the interactions of the characters, we find a great lesson in extravagant love and true discipleship.
So, who are the players? Of course there is Jesus, who comes into Bethany where Lazarus lives. As you remember, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead earlier in his ministry. Like two old friends who fellowship over the lunch table when one is in town for a visit, Jesus joins his friends Lazarus, Mary, and Martha, for dinner. While Martha prepares the meal, Lazarus keeps Jesus and the other company entertained. Then Mary enters, and in an unexpectedly extravagant act, she changes the whole course of the evening. As the sweet-smelling perfume permeates the party, Judas is angered, and he speaks out against Mary’s extravagance. I think it’s fair to say that each of these people loved Jesus, but it was expressed in different ways. The great question for us is how do we express our love of Jesus?
Do we really love Jesus as Mary did? Or do we love Jesus as Martha did; in practical ways, expressing our devotion through the work of our hands, the everyday acts of servitude in our lives? Or are we more like Judas, seemingly diligent in our care of our appointed tasks? We might be quick to dismiss Judas, to sneer in his general direction. We know he is the traitor, and John has reminded us of this. And we are certainly shocked by the boldness of Judas’ question. Yet, when we look at Jesus’ ministry, we see that this is not a bad question. “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?” Judas asks. Judas may have been a thief and traitor, he may have embezzled money from the common treasury, he may have had other motives besides the high moral road he seems to project, and he probably didn’t give a hoot about the poor. But isn’t he basically right? I mean, he was asking a question that was at the crux of Jesus’ ministry; helping the poor. Couldn’t the pound of expensive perfume dumped on Jesus’ feet have been used for a better purpose? Why hadn’t Mary chosen a less expensive oil? Couldn’t the money have been used to buy food for a starving family or to improve the housing in Mary, Martha and Lazarus’ neighborhood? Mary’s extravagance was worth a year’s wages! Translate that to today’s economy and, conservatively, we’re talking about $30,000 of perfume poured onto Jesus’ feet.