The Message, April 3, 2022, "Extravagant Love"

The Message, April 3, 2022, "Extravagant Love"

Author: Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
April 05, 2022

 

“Extravagant Love”
A Message by Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
John 12:1-8

            It was interesting … as I was preparing the message for this morning, I found myself being drawn toward a memory of one Christmas morning many years ago. It was after I got out of college, and I was working a job for which I actually earned money.

            I remember that leading up to that Christmas, I was excited that I would finally be able to purchase “significant” gifts for my family. I remember going shopping and spending more money than I had ever been able to spend on my family previously. I remember being excited as I wrapped the gifts and being even more excited as Christmas morning arrived.

            I remember sitting expectantly, with great anticipation as my family opened the treasures that I had purchased for them. I could not wait to see their reactions!

            And … that is all I remember.

            No … I did not blackout from drinking too much eggnog. I simply do not remember the gifts that I purchased. And I have no recollection of how my family reacted to their gifts. Nothing.

            Although I may have spent what seemed to be a fortune for me at the time, it is quite apparent that they were not memorable or meaningful gifts. But … they made me feel good … and proud … at that moment. Not exactly the motivation with which we should approach gift-giving. “Oh boy! I cannot wait to see how I feel when they open that present!”

            In this morning’s scripture lesson, we hear about some much more memorable and meaningful gifts.

            The setting and the characters are familiar. We have been there before. We have spent time with them.

            We remember one of our previous encounters with Martha and Mary. Jesus was in their home teaching and Martha was fussing about, taking care of ALL of the hospitality requirements by herself. Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to him teach.

            We remember a later encounter … when Jesus received news that Lazarus was sick and made his way back to Judea. We also remember that Jesus was told that he was too late, that Lazarus had died. And then we remember that Jesus displayed the power and glory of God and raised Lazarus from the dead.

            What we may not remember was that event … the raising of Lazarus … resulted in a death sentence for Jesus. When the news of Jesus’ miracle spread, he became more popular than ever. Therefore, the Sanhedrin decided that he must die. They also decided that Lazarus should die … again.

            And that is where we join the story this morning. Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, even though it was the most dangerous place on earth for him at that time. But he knew that this was the culmination of his ministry. He set his face for Jerusalem.

            The holy city was crowded because of the Passover festival, so he decided to stay in Bethany, at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. No doubt, the room was filled with anxiety and tension. Nobody thought that it was a good idea to complete the journey to Jerusalem. Certainly not those who were in that room that day, those who loved him dearly and desperately.

            Everyone reacts to tension differently. Some people avoid it, others crack jokes. Martha did her thing … she cleaned and served. There were guests in her home, and so she did what she did best … she served. She expressed her love and her concern by serving. That was her gift to Jesus.

            And Mary did what Mary does … she showed her love in a completely different and unexpected way. She actually displayed her love in a number of ways in this one episode.

            She took a bottle of very expensive perfume and poured it all over Jesus’ feet. She poured the entire bottle, nearly twelve ounces, an exorbitant and excessive amount of nard, and anointed his feet. She used so much perfume that the scent filled the entire room. Those gathered there must have swooned with the aroma. The gift was extravagant … the equivalent of nearly one year’s salary for the average laborer.

            Devotion cannot be measured in pounds or pence, or dollars and cents. Although some people believe that it can.

            But the gift of the anointing was extravagant for more reasons than just the cost of the perfume.

            Mary did not anoint his head, as others had done. She anointed his feet in a beautiful and tender act of humility and hospitality.

            And as we heard, Mary wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair. Not only was that an intimate act; it was also an act forbidden by cultural norms. Women were forbidden from interacting with men in public. Even more, they were forbidden from displaying their hair in public.

            However, Mary did not allow those social restrictions to prevent her from offering the gift that she felt compelled to give. And as we heard, Mary was instantly attacked for the extravagance of her gift.

            Ahhh … Judas. What gift did you offer? You questioned, and criticized, and condemned Mary for her beautiful gift of love.

            Let me say that I did not want to chase down the rabbit hole of Judas’ motivation for his comments this morning. He is a very complicated man. I will say that this is the only reference in scripture to him being a thief.

            But Judas’ complex character and motivation is not the point here.

            This is about extravagant love, and the purest expression of that love is offered by Jesus. He knew that the Sanhedrin was plotting to kill him. He knew that they would be successful in their plot. Yet, his destiny was Jerusalem.

            Jesus knew that his ministry called for him to give his life, and he was going to offer the most precious gift of all … himself … God’s perfect love. When he said that Mary was anointing him for burial, he was not speaking metaphorically. He knew it to be literal. He was foretelling what would occur in a few short days.

            Jesus’ response to Judas’ condemnation sounds as if it was a callous rejection of the poor, when in fact he was citing a passage from Deuteronomy.

           “There will always be poor people in the land.”

           But the very next line instructs them to care for the poor: “Therefore, I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.” (Deuteronomy 15:11)

           However, in Jewish culture, anointing the dead and preparing them for burial took priority over caring for the poor; it superseded the call to care for the least among them. Unusual or extravagant expense at a funeral was not regarded as an unseemly expense.

           I do not recall the motivation with which I approached that Christmas so long ago. Perhaps I bought the gifts I bought for all of the right reasons … the reasons of the season.

           What I do know is what we can take away from this lesson this morning. We are loved by God. We are loved first and loved beyond measure. We are loved with a love that was embodied perfectly in Jesus Christ. And we are called to reflect that love. We are called to imitate that love. We are called to live love and give love, and that love should possess three characteristics.

           First … love is not self-conscious. Mary did not care what the men in the room would think when she let down her hair. She did not give a second thought to those social conventions or restrictions. She simply acted out of love and devotion.

           There may be those who are reluctant to share their love for Jesus, their love for God publicly. They may be embarrassed by what people may think of them. “What will my neighbors this? What will my co-workers think if I do x, y, z?”

           True love is not ashamed to be offered.

           Second … love is humility. Mary did not anoint Jesus’ head she anointed his feet.

           True love and devotion must be characterized by a willingness to meet people where they are, even if it is uncomfortable for us. In the memoir, Something Beautiful for God, we hear the story of Mother Theresa. True love meant a willingness to roll up her sleeves and kneel in the gutter.

           Mary anointed Jesus’ feet in the manner that Jesus would later wash the disciples’ feet. True love is willing to humble itself.

           And finally … third … love is extravagant.

           Love is not love if it counts the cost. Love is not love if it considers what it will get in return.

           Mary did not pull out her checkbook when she considered her gift to Jesus. She just gave out of pure love.

           Martha did not question the amount or cost of her gift either. She gave out of her love as well.

           And Jesus did not withhold a fraction of his love. He gave all that he had, all that he is.

           What will we give? How will we love?

           Amen.


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