Mary cared more than the cost. So did Jesus. What cost is holding us back from experiencing the joy of giving?
Fifth Sunday in Lent (Year C) – March 13, 2016 – John 12:1-8
St. Jacob’s-Spaders Lutheran Church, Harrisonburg, Virginia
Caring More than the Cost – Pastor Evan Davis
I have always been captivated by the history of our country and the importance of our system of government. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a huge government and history nerd. On our family’s living room bookshelf growing up were these huge history books that had been my grandfather’s and, of course, I just devoured them. Read every page. So there was no place I wanted to visit more as a kid than Washington, D.C. And when I was in the second grade, over Thanksgiving break, my mom took me and my twin brother to Washington. We saw all the museums at the Smithsonian. Went to every monument. This was back when you could just wait in line and tour right through the White House and the Capitol Building, no problem. I thought the hotel we stayed in had to have been the nicest hotel on the planet because they served you popcorn and Coke at 5pm!
I will always remember it – riding the Metro for the first time (which fascinated me – I’m also a subway nerd), being in the president’s house, seeing where laws were made – it fanned the flames of my interest in our society, our history, and our government, but even more important than that, it created deeply felt memories for our little family. Of course, it wasn’t just what we were doing but that we did it together. It was a trip that helped shape me in many important ways.
My mom is a single mom. She worked nights at the hospital as a newborn intensive care nurse. We didn’t have a lot of extra money. Of course, I didn’t realize it then, but as I think back on it, we couldn’t really afford this trip. I mean we could, but I know there were a lot of other things my mom could have done with that money. She had worked a lot of long nights and there were a lot of pressing needs, a lot of things she could have done for herself, or even for us, with that money. In all honesty, this trip was an extravagant and even unreasonable gift.
But sometimes a gift is worth more than what it costs. And my mom, she cared more than the cost. She cared about my brother and me and perhaps she knew what that gift would mean to me and how it would strengthen our relationship.
Have you ever been given an extravagant, unreasonable gift? Not only a gift you didn’t deserve but even a gift you knew the giver couldn’t, or shouldn’t, afford?
Well, Jesus has. 300 denarii – a year’s wages. A year’s wages worth, a whole pound of pure nard, made into an exquisite perfume. Mary had no business giving such a gift to anyone. Think what that money could do for her, for her sister Martha, and their recently brought-back-to-life brother Lazarus. Think of what it could do for her community, or for the poor among them.
But Mary cared more than the cost. John tells a gospel story filled with tender relationships of deep intimacy. Jesus says that he lies in the very bosom of the Father. There is a disciple in this gospel he loves so much that person is simply called, “the one Jesus loved.” And Jesus becomes, essentially, a brother to this little family – Mary, Martha, and Lazarus of Bethany. He has just wept with the sisters over their dead brother and then called him back to life out of the tomb, and the four-days-dead man walked right out. Can you imagine what Mary feels toward Jesus? Can you imagine what the relationship meant to her?
Let’s say Jesus is right, and Mary’s purpose in spending her life savings to buy this costly perfume was to anoint him on the day of his burial – to anoint him in a manner befitting a king about to be buried with his royal family. If she that was her purpose, well, she couldn’t wait until he died. She changed her mind. She figured out what eluded the rest of the disciples, that Jesus was indeed on the way to his death, but she couldn’t wait. She couldn’t wait to pour out her love in this extravagant gift. She couldn’t wait to express those feelings she felt for the only begotten Son who was like a brother to her. She couldn’t wait to experience all the connection she could share with Jesus in this moment while they both still lived.
Like Jesus and like Mary, we won’t be here forever. What are we waiting for? If the story of Jesus tells us anything, it tells us that our time on this earth is short. We have our riches, our savings, like Mary – whether that’s money, or time, or energy, or an idea, a feeling, a love….for what are we saving these treasures, holding them back, if not for the opportunities God puts before us? For what has God blessed us with these things if not to pour them out in love for the sake of the people God has given to us to love and serve? In a very real way, there is no tomorrow, or there might not be. And if there is, God will provide again. So why not reach for that bottle of perfume today?
Judas paid lip service to serving the poor, when really he just wanted to keep that money long enough to clutch it between his fingers. We have better motives. We can think of endless very good and Jesus-following ways to save that money, or to avoid that risk. Maybe to eventually give to the poor, but probably not. Perhaps just to make sure we have something for the proverbial rainy day. And no doubt that’s prudent. It really is.
[And by the way, when Jesus says, “you always have the poor with you,” he’s not saying poverty has no solution. He’s saying that if you really cared about the poor you wouldn’t be worried just about one potential act of charity and miss this beautiful gift Mary is giving in this special moment. He’s said elsewhere and he implies here that if you did you’d be caring about them every day of your life and making the sacrifices needed to make the whole system more just for every person every day. Charity too often lets us off the hook for the justice God desires.1]
The point is, the value of the gift is way more than the value of the money it cost sitting in the purse, or even earning interest in the bank. Again I ask, for what has God given us money, or skills, or great ideas, or courage, or time, or love, or faith, if not to use these things in service of his mission, of living into the different way of being that Jesus calls the kingdom of God? Because the cross is coming soon for Jesus and our days on this earth are numbered.
Christ cared more than the cost. Christ gave everything for you and for me. Now we share in Christ’s abundant and eternal life, starting right now. What beautiful, extravagant, unreasonable gift can you give, can we give, in the name of Jesus? Think of the gifts of those who have gone before us – gifts of love, of teaching, of example, of time and energy and money to build this place, to raise us up in faith, to set us out on a firm footing in the world? What have those meant to you? What gift can we give our children? Our neighbors? This community?
Maybe there is a child you know to whom you could give yourself, to nurture, teach, or mentor? Maybe there’s a skill you have that you have been holding back from the world, maybe out of fear, perhaps shame? Maybe your faith is yearning to be shared in a conversation, in an action, that will make all the difference to someone in your life? Gifts create and deepen relationships, and relationships are the only thing that build Christ’s Church. Amen.
1This thought was informed by: Eliseo Perez-Alvarez, “Commentary on John 12:1-8,” https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2749 (accessed March 9, 2016).