I don’t know how you go about choosing a present. Choosing of presents is different depending on who you’re choosing it for. You have to think about the person you’re choosing it for, and your relationship with them. For example, there would be a difference between choosing a gift for your mum and a niece. And a very big difference between a gift for your husband and your neighbour. Selecting the right gift can take time, and thinking about the person and your relationship with them.
But gestures have a mountain of meaning. When my son, who doesn’t do help, makes me my lunch on Mothers day that is worth more than a room full of flowers. Actions communicate deep emotions – both good and bad.
Today’s gift communicates deep emotion – it’s about passion. Deep conviction, utter love, the reason for being – or even about what you are willing to die for. Mary’s is a costly extravagant gesture. It shows her passion for Jesus.
Her passion encapsulates three things:
Looking back and giving thanks… do we do it?
The story is told of a missionary surgeon who was rather gruff and to the point. On one occasion he had stopped to see a woman on whom he had performed surgery. She and her husband were really poor.
Their entire livestock supply consisted of one angora rabbit and two chickens. For income the woman combed the hair out of the rabbit, spun the hair into yarn and sold it. For food she and her husband ate the eggs from the chickens.
The woman insisted that the surgeon stay for lunch. He accepted the invitation and said he would be back for lunch after he had gone down the road to see another postoperative patient. An hour and a half later he was back. He peeked into the cooking pot to see what he was going to eat. He saw one rabbit and two chickens. The woman had given up her entire livestock supply–her income, her food, everything. Such was her gratitude to that surgeon for what he had done for her.
Today Jesus is in the house of Lazarus – the man Jesus had raised from death. These people know about him, they have seen what he can do – what happens next is Mary’s response to that. A wholehearted response to the work of Jesus in her life.
Likewise Isaiah calls the people to look at the things God has done in the past. To remind themselves of how God saved them, and has journeyed with them. But looking back was not an excuse for nostalgia at how wonderful things had been, but as a springboard of hope for the future. God had done great things, and was to be praised for that – but also to be trusted for the future. What he had done was nothing compared to what he would yet do. But we are to recall what God has done and give him a worthy offering. And use that to look to the future.
For Paul, Jesus was the focal point of the ‘new thing’ God had promised to do. He tells those who want to impose rules and regulations of the old way of Judaism, in very stark and compelling terms about the personal revolution that Jesus has brought about in his own life. What may once have been important – now is not
Jesus is the centre of his life – worship of him is what is important.
Are we so aware of the work of God I our lives? Do we take the time to pause and reflect, to dwell on God’s goodness – and if we are how do we respond? Mary was not afraid to convey the depth of her devotion to Jesus, her gratitude to him for raising her brother, and that she was not worried who knew about it.
It’s easy to get into a cycle. If you are looking for bad things – you will very easily find them. Prejudices can be re-enforced and things soon spiral downwards. But if we get into a different cycle and take on the habit of looking to see where God is in our everyday lives, it means we are more aware of his presence; being more aware of his presence leads us to gratitude; and such gratitude leads us to passionate devotion…
So, do we let God know how much we love him?…
Sacrifice – what would we give up for God, or give to him?
A few years ago a man who was kidnapped. His kidnappers called his wife and asked for £100,000 ransom. She refused to pay it, but eventually agreed to pay £30,000. It’s only a story, but I’m sure we would all like to assume that in similar circumstances there would be those who were willing to pay whatever was needed to free us.
Sometimes it’s O.K. to be extravagant! Jesus is on His way to the cross. The cross where he gave up everything to get us back. It is just a few days before Passover. The chief priests and scribes are plotting against Him. Judas is about ready to betray Him. The crucifixion is less than a week away and Jesus knows it. Jesus and His disciples stop at Bethany. Mary brings an alabaster jar of very expensive ointment. She breaks open the jar and pours the costly perfumed oil on Jesus’ head. She anoints His head with oil.
Mary’s act was personally costly. Spikenard is native to India and to buy a pound would have taken an ordinary worker over a year saving every penny to buy.
It wasn’t cheap perfume that Mary poured on Jesus feet, it wasn’t even a perfectly acceptable brand – it was the very best – pure nard – and wiped not with as cloth, but with her hair – very particular to a woman. Mary’s gesture was extravagant – it showed the depth of her feeling for Jesus. She recognises that this is not a time for saving, or holding back – but for seizing the moment.
She let her passion for Jesus run away with her, so that everyone can see… It was a visible passion
In the film ‘Chocolat’, Vianne Rocher and her daughter arrive in the French village of Lansquenet at the beginning of lent to open a chocolate shop. The Priest sees Vianne as a danger to his flock, and so bans his entire congregation from visiting the shop. But Vianne has an attitude of openness and acceptance; and her chocolate is sensual and extravagant. Despite what the Priest would have everyone believe, it is not corrupting, but life giving. It is the love she shows to that church congregation that reawaken their lives and free them from the drudgery they had found themselves in.
Extravagance and passion– and that goes for God as well as chocolate!! – win people over. To go beyond the conceived rules to relationship. It is easy to make decisions about anything when you are not involved, things seem so black and white when you are on the outside looking in. As soon as relationship comes into it, the rules take on a different life – that’s love. It takes us not around the rules but through them.
It was customary for guests to be anointed with oil at well-to-do dinner parties as a mark of respect – what Mary does for Jesus this night goes beyond respect. She is caught up in the moment of worship of Jesus, and nothing else matters – not cost, not personal embarrassment – just adoration of her Lord and Master. What passion – what love! It is acknowledgement of all that Jesus is and all that he means to Mary. She by her actions embodies kingdom principles. She does what Jesus did in turning water into wine – much more than is needed and much better than is needed.
It would however have been totally shocking for a woman to loosen her hair and wipe Jesus feet with it. Such was the depth of her feeling for Jesus that that was what she wanted to do. She let her hair down and let her true feelings out. Nothing, no-one was going to hold back such a extravagant expression of what Jesus meant to her –it was there for all to see.
Her passion for Jesus was not to be kept in check, it was not to be watered down so that it didn’t upset anyone, she allowed it to run free, and Jesus was blessed by it.
Remember, Mary was the one who sat at Jesus feet, while it appeared Martha did all the work – now Mary is doing something and it is worth sitting up and taking notice.
This is six days before Jesus’ death… What Mary did pointed to his death. There would be no opportunity for him to be anointed after his death, she does that now – beautifully, extravagantly, in a great offering of love…
Mary’s actions can be contrasted with those of Judas Iscariot – cold, calculating – missing the point. He gives conventional disapproval.
Jesus however knows his death is near. On this occasion he accepts such a token of effusive love which reflects the spirit of God’s kingdom in its spontaneity and genuineness; in a way that the outward correctness and inward scheming of Judas does not. This is a time for Mary to be able to show the depths of our love for God. The point, Jesus clarifies, is not what behaviour makes the right impression, but how people respond to him. He never knocks anyone who comes to him in genuine expressions of worship – whatever others may think, but accepts our offering to him, it is beautiful in his sight.
So, as we reflect on what Jesus has done for us, where he has been with us, let us come to his feet, and pour out our offering to him.