Year C Lent 5 John 12
It's Ok to Be Extravagant
The story had a happy ending: the man returned home unharmed, the money was recovered, and the kidnappers were caught and sent to jail. But, don't you wonder what happened when the man got home and found that his wife got him back for a discount? Calvin Trillin was the writer of this story. He imagined out loud what the negotiations must have been like: "$100,000 for that old guy? You have got to be crazy. Just look at him! Look at that gut! You want $100,000 for that? You've got to be kidding. Give me a break here. $30,000 is my top offer." Mark Trotter concluded his rendition of the story with this thoughtful comment: "I suppose there are some here this morning who can identify with the wife in that story, but for some reason I find myself identifying with the husband. I'd like to think if I were in a similar situation, there would be people who would spare no expense to get me back. They wouldn't haggle over the price. They wouldn't say, 'Well, let me think about it.' I like to think that they would say, 'We'll do anything for you.'"
The point of that story is this: sometimes it's O.K. to be extravagant! Now, that is precisely what this story in the Gospel of Mark is all about. Remember the story with me. Jesus is on His way to the cross. 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. just a few days before, Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead there in Bethany. Now, as they are having dinner, a woman comes to Jesus and does a beautiful but extravagant thing for our Lord. The Gospel of John tells us that the woman was Mary, (the sister of Martha and Lazarus). 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.
Why did she do that? Some say it was an act of gratitude in which she was thanking Jesus for raising her brother Lazarus from the dead. Some say it was an act of consecration in which she was baptizing Jesus to encourage Him to go into the Holy City and do what had to be done. Others say it was a foreshadowing, an act of preparation, in which she was anointing His body for the death which was to come in Jerusalem a few days later. All say it was an act of love and kindness.
But Judas said it was a waste. If you lived strictly by the Judas mind-set, you would have no Spire on the church, no flowers on the altar, no art on the wall, no robes for the choir, no fine organ, no beautiful weddings. Your daughter would come to you and say, "I'm in love and I'm so happy. I want to get married." And you would say, "Well, why don't you just elope? It's much cheaper. It would be wasteful to have a wedding." But the Mary mind-set says, "Sometimes in the name of love and kindness and gratefulness; it's O.K. Indeed, it's beautiful to be extravagant." Let me show you what I mean.
- First Of All, It's OK To Be Extravagant In Our Generosity.
- Second, It's OK To Be Extravagant In Our Gratitude.
- Third And Finally, It's OK To Be Extravagant In Our Graciousness.
Sometime in life we have all had to endure a "know it all."
Know-it-alls plague us later in life as well.
The co-worker who always has a "better way" to do things.
The naysayer who "just knows" that your new idea is doomed to failure.
The clueless who claim they "know" just how you feel.
The powerful who "know" what is best for the powerless.
The relative who is the resident know-it-all of the family.
The claim of "knowing it all," of having "absolute knowledge" guarantees the same results as "absolute power" . . . absolute disaster.
In the first few centuries after Christ, there were lots of different religious practices based on special, secret knowledge. Among Greek and Roman religious cults, Judaism, and certain early Christian communities, being privy to special "gnosis," or "knowledge," created "insiders" and "outsiders." There were those "in the know" and those left out in the dark.
We still have lots of secret societies or what one might even call "gnostic" tendencies today. Did anyone here join a fraternity or sorority in college? Remember all the crazy initiation rites you had to go through? Remember how you were sworn to secrecy from that time forward?
We all are seduced by gnosticism. Author Dan Brown ("The Da Vinci Code," "The Lost Symbol") has made a fortune remaking and "revealing" secret "gnosis" that allegedly drove factions within the Catholic Church and the Brotherhood of Freemasons. Or how about a secret language, Latin for Christians, Hebrew for Jews, that kept praises, proclamations, and prayers secret, unintelligible to the untutored or the uninitiated. Or how about this: can any but those with insider knowledge understand "military-speak" or "legalese" or "academese?"
In today's epistle text Paul takes the first century love of secret "gnosis" and turns it upside down. All the impressive elements that had made Paul one of the most "in the know" religious know-it-alls within Judaism . . . a "Hebrew among Hebrews," a Pharisee, a zealous, blameless defender of the faith . . . all those great achievements Paul suddenly declares as "loss," as absolute "excrement." Paul put a big, fat, minus sign in front of all that had been previously seen as positive in his life.
What replaces all these human achievements? One thing: "the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord" (v.8).
What is this "knowing" Paul had experienced?...