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.
And so we come to Mary, the center of this great drama. Why did Mary do such a thing, pouring that expensive perfume over Jesus’ feet? Did Jesus’ feet smell that bad? Jesus says “it was intended that she would save this perfume for the day of my burial.” Doesn’t Mary go a little overboard on funeral expenses? It’s like buying the most expensive casket possible only to have it buried in the ground. And that’s essentially what happens to this perfume. It’s wasted. A year’s salary could have helped a lot of needy people. That’s Judas’ point, even if he was a thief! And what about Mary, Martha and Lazarus? They lived in Bethany, which translated means, “house of the poor.” They couldn’t exactly afford to do this! Mary was giving Jesus everything she had; much more than she could afford!
Have you ever given everything you had in love? Your most prized-possession; have you ever given that up?
In his short story, The Gift of the Magi. O. Henry tells of a young couple, Della and Jim. Della and Jim were very poor, but they were very much in love. Each had one unique possession that was the pride and joy of their lives. Della’s hair was her glory. When she let it down it almost served as a robe. Jim had a gold watch which had come to him from his father and was his pride. It was the day before Christmas, and Della had exactly one dollar eighty-seven cents to buy Jim a present. Wanting to give Jim the best that she could, Della went out and sold her hair for 20 dollars. With the money, she bought a platinum fob for Jim’s precious watch. When Jim came home that night and saw Della’s shorn head, he stopped as if stupefied. It was not that he did not like it or love her any less; for she was lovelier than ever. Slowly he handed her his gift; it was a set of expensive tortoise-shell combs with jeweled edges for her lovely hair—and he had sold his gold watch to buy them. Each had given the other all there was to give. They didn’t need to go to such lengths to give one another these gifts, but real love cannot think of any other way to give. When we give out of the depths of love and gratitude, we cannot help but be extravagant in our giving.