John 12: 1-8
It’s no secret that with my hobby of collecting ocean liner and cruise ship memorabilia, Mary Ann and I like to take cruises. I like to get away from the phone and stretch out on a deck chair and watch the sea. Perhaps you like that too. In terms of extravagance, we’ve been pretty ordinary. Our first cruise was in an ocean view cabin for our 10th wedding anniversary. We kept getting ocean view rooms until our 25th anniversary when I treated Mary Ann to a cruise from San Diego (Oceanside, CA is her home town) through the Panama Canal (the canal zone was her Junior High home) all the way to Florida. For that cruise, going through the canal, I paid for a balcony cabin. Of course after that, we never went back to an ocean view cabin again! We got used to the open air of a balcony. One time we asked our travel agent to book a cruise on the Carnival Dream for a summer vacation. The surprise for us was we were given an aqua spa cabin for the price of a regular one! The room had special shampoos and lotions and robes to walk out our door directly into the spa, where there were aromatherapy rooms, whirlpools, warm ceramic lounge chairs, spring waters flavored with either oranges or cucumbers, saunas, steam rooms, and more: all included! We even had a special dining room where we could eat our meals. Plus free room service for breakfast. We hardly saw the rest of the ship!
My point is that when I’ve been given the gift of some pampering—without high cost— I’ve have enjoyed it. Today in our passage I’ve tried to imagine what Jesus faced over the early weeks of his ministry. Listen to this: according to John, Jesus recruited and called his disciples, attended a wedding at Cana where he changed water into wine, cleansed the Temple where he met great resistance, talked to religious leader Nicodemus about being “born again,” traveled through the “no man’s land” of Samaria where he met a woman at a well and turned her into one of his many evangelists, healed an official’s son, healed an invalid at the pool of Bethsesda, fed 5000 people, walked on water, was regularly interrogated by scribes and Pharisees, decided what to do with a woman accused of adultery, foretold his own death, explained to people how he was the good shepherd, razed his friend Lazarus from the dead, and wept with Mary, Lazarus’ sister. Finally, Jesus also learned of a plot to kill him. I’m thinking Jesus could have used an aqua spa cabin about then, or at least a touch of pampering for his wounded psyche, tired feet, or aching body! “Six days before the Passover” John 12 tells us “Jesus returned to the home of his friends, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.” I’m imagining he needed some down time before the demands of Passover. So many times we hear about a person called “a sinful woman” coming into the home of a Pharisee and wiping Jesus feet with costly oil and with her hair. This is not that event. Today Jesus is in the home of friends, with his disciples. Although he would not have asked for it, to have a kind—and even extravagant—gesture done for him must have been welcomed. He clearly cared for this Mary and her siblings very much. It is not his mother, Mary nor Mary Magdalene- there are so many Marys in the New Testament! This one—his friend—compassionately and generously took a pound of very costly oil, a kind of perfume like spikenard or myrrh, and washed Jesus’ feet over and over with it, likely in a messaging, caring way. The fragrance filled the room. I can imagine our tired Lord perhaps sighing with joy and closing his eyes to such loving care. In this story, Mary’s kind pampering is only interrupted by the man who continually interrupted Jesus’ hopes for living out his last days. He was Judas Iscariot: a disciple who was thinking with his head and not his heart. John points out the Judas “was the one who was about to betray him.” Judas starts yammering about how much money Mary is wasting, even as Jesus was likely grateful for the lavish and extravagant gift of a special friend messaging his tired feet. Finally Jesus speaks, and I imagine he’d rather have just sat there for his foot message, but Judas cuts the loving atmosphere with accusations. Jesus musters up new energy and says: “Leave her alone.” That’s all I think he wanted to say. But to guide his listeners he added, “She bought that jar for my burial.” In a way, instead of using the myrrh—or nard—on his dead body, she chose to use it on his living body. What a wonderful idea. I think Jesus was most grateful for it. And perhaps we too might think about gifts we can give while friends or family members are alive, rather than spending money on flowers and memorials when they are dead. I know some of you have done that. Good job! Spend your money on special people in special ways; if you do it while you are alive, you can hopefully see the smiles it brings and the good it does. My parents gave yearly gifts to my brother and sisters once we were grown, and they got to hear how we enjoyed the money for some needed repairs or relaxation. They also gave money to help our children get through college. Wow. Extravagant gifts are remembered.
When my friend Radford met with me this last Wednesday, he said “one of my main purposes here is to see that you get a total day off on Mondays.” I teared up ia little nside. He gets it; he knows how pastors burn the candle at both ends. What a generous and extravagant gift I’m getting from one who knows how important one day off a week is. Give thanks for those who give to you in extravagant ways. I do.
Let us pray:
Extravagant God, who gave us your whole world as a gift, with running waters, tall mountains, and lush pastures: remind us how to cherish nature and those who appreciate us. Teach us the joy of giving to others generously. In Jesus’ name, who one day, in a friend’s house, had the extravagance of fragrant oil massaged into his tired feet. Amen.
Jeffrey A. Sumner April 7, 2019