April 07, 2019
Fifth Sunday in Lent
RUMC, Pastor SeokCheol Shin
An Extravagant Love
Love of Giving
As we are about to move on to Palm Sunday and Holy Week, we are given this last Sunday in Lent to ponder God’s gift of generosity and what that generosity means in our lives with God and one another. John’s Gospel highlights God’s generosity through the story of Mary’s pouring her perfume on Jesus’ feet; she loved Jesus and that’s why she gave her best to him without counting her loss.
Love is giving! It is lavishly generous. It is giving even of that which is most precious to us, if it will in some way honor the one we love. It does not even think of the cost; no sacrifice is too great for love. The focus of the giver is all upon the beloved.
Showing an Extravagant Love
In John’s Gospel this morning, Jesus was on his way to enter Jerusalem. It was just six days before the Passover (v. 1). The chief priests and scribes were plotting against him. Iscariot Judas was about ready to betray him. The crucifixion was less than a week away, and, of course, he was aware of it, of all of it.
Jesus and his disciples stopped at Bethany. Just a few days before, he had raised Lazarus from the dead there in Bethany. Now, as they were having dinner, Lazarus’s sister, Mary came to Jesus and did a memorable thing for the Lord. She brought an alabaster jar of very expensive ointment. She broke open the jar and poured the costly perfumed oil on Jesus’ feet; and she wiped his feet with her hair (v. 3).
Why did she do that? Some say it was an act of gratitude; she was expressing her thanks to Jesus for raising her brother Lazarus from the grave. Some say it was an act of consecration; she was encouraging him to go into the Jerusalem Temple. Others say it was a symbolic preparation in which she was anointing his body for the death he would experience a few days later. Yet, if we find the one motive in all these possible interpretations, that would be Mary’s act of love towards him.
Other disciples couldn’t understand her reaction. In their eyes, it was nothing but a waste of money (Matthew 26:8). According to our common sense also, Mary’s pouring out the perfume and wiping it again seems incredibly wasteful. Surely if Mary carefully considered Jesus’ ministry to give sight to the blind, to heal the lame, and to set at liberty the oppressed, she would have honored Jesus by giving what she had to the poor.
In this regard, Judas seems more righteous and reasonable as he responded, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (v. 5). If we lived strictly by Judas’ mind-set, we would have no flowers on the altar, no art on the wall, no bulletins for the service, no fine organ, no books, no neon cross outside for the night time because those are only accessories. Your daughter would come to you and say, “I’m in love and I want to get married.” And you would respond, “Fine. We are glad for it. But, it would be wasteful to invite people and have a wedding ceremony. Love is all, so why don’t you just elope? It’s much cheaper.”
But Mary’s mind-set says, “Great, let us have a party!!! For the sake of your love, we want to be extravagant to celebrate your wedding and your future life.” To Mary, the perfume was the most precious thing she owned, but she was willing to give it up only for praising Jesus because she loved him so much.
Which side do you think you belong to? Which one do you think is more right? Jesus defended Mary’s prodigal action, telling Judas that he should leave her alone, and let her keep what she had done as a precious memory, a memory of how she had prepared him for his day of burial (v. 7). And then he left a meaningful word, “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me” (v. 8).
Jesus approved what Mary did to him. Is it because of the expensive gift of the perfume that was poured on his feet? Not at all! He was a very humble man who didn’t care about any kinds of worldly desires: in his early thirties he left his family and lived as a homeless guy just to carry out God’s salvation ministry and he even invited many people to follow his way. He wasn’t excited at the gift itself but was deeply touched by Mary’s extravagant love and kindness for him.
Love always gives its best, and it does so at the moment of opportunity. It does so now, today, with the people living around us. Love is an immediate thing and an extravagant thing to the people we want to care for before they may be dead and gone.
This extravagant love is the kind of love that we are called to share. Indeed, it is the kind of love that Jesus himself showed us. On the day after Mary anointed his feet, he moved to Jerusalem and gave his life as a gift to all humanity by dying on a cross. On the cross, Jesus poured out all of his blood, not some of his blood, because he loved us so much. In the same way, we must be also willing to offer our best to our Lord if we truly love him.
The Fragrance of God’s Grace
What are we to make, then, of Mary’s shocking gesture of pouring the perfume on Jesus’ feet and then wiping them with her hair? How is it related to our worship and fellowship in our faith community? When she offered her best thing to Jesus and then when she wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair, John’s Gospel witnesses that “The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume” (v. 3).
A Few days later, Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples. Like Mary did to him, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. He said to them, “If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (v. 14). Then, he moved on to the cross to offer his life to all humanity he loved.
As God’s children, our concern is, how can we make our community of faith full of praise, full of glory, and full of the fragrance of God’s grace? I believe today’s Gospel lesson lets us know how. Like Mary did to Jesus, we must bring our best to Jesus’ feet to praise him; and like Jesus did to his disciples, we must be willing to offer our best thing to the Lord and one another and make ourselves humble enough to wash others’ feet. Through our giving and serving, we can fill our church with joy, peace, love, and grace. Amen.