What A Waste!
March 13, 2016
I remember getting acquainted with a family while serving a previous congregation whose daughter had been diagnosed with cancer. She was only in her early twenties, but the doctors had been very clear with her and with her parents that she was in the last months of her life.
At the time of her diagnosis, her health was still relatively good. She could still do most of the things that she wanted to do and for the time being had clearance to go wherever she desired to travel.
As a result, they entered a season in their lives where they lived rather extravagantly as a family. They went places that they would not have gone to in other circumstances. They stayed in nicer hotels. They adjusted their schedules and they did big things spur of the moment.
I feel fairly certain that for a time they were living beyond their means. And, I suspect that they used all of the vacation time that they had banked and then some. But, in spite of what might have been questionable decisions at other junctions in life – I admired them in that moment. For, they had the ability to recognize that a moment in their lives was quickly ending and that it would never return again. They had the wisdom to realize that they needed to change how they lived and their priorities for a season.
This story before us today of Mary and her extravagance as she washes and anoints Jesus’ feet with a costly perfume that had a value of a year’s wages teaches lots of lessons. It is a story that features five central characters – beyond Mary, Martha, Jesus, Lazarus and Judas are all a part of what happens and as our Bible study group this past Wednesday night learned together, all of them offer lessons through their part in this story that are worthy of our attention.
In turn, I don’t mean to dismiss all of the rich thoughts that are here. But, I do want to focus our attention on only one of those ideas this morning. That lesson is about Mary’s extravagance and our recognition that what Judas rightly saw as a something that at other times would have been a waste, was actually the absolute right thing to do in that moment in which the event happened. Like my friends with their extravagance for a dying daughter, Mary exhibited extravagance of her own for like them, I think she realized that time was short.
You see, in John, this story takes place on the Saturday evening before the Triumphal entry of Palm Sunday. That is to say that it happens on the last night before Holy Week begins which would end with Jesus’ unexpected death on the following Friday. In other words, Mary’s extravagant act takes place at a time when Jesus had only six days left to live.
Some how, I believe that Mary recognized that a door was closing. As the text says, she understood that they would not have Jesus with them very much longer. In turn, she wanted to do something that showed her love, her care and her faith in him. Again, what may not have been appropriate at another time was exactly appropriate in that moment.
Without question, Mary communicates a tremendous amount in her courageous act. She communicates humility through caring for Jesus feet and by using her hair. She demonstrates loyalty and faith through anointing Jesus with an expensive perfume as a way of saying that she recognized that the end was near and as a means of showing that she was committed to him. And she expresses her willingness to give him the very best and most expensive thing in her life – this bottle of perfume worth a years wages – an item likely being kept for a future special moment in her own life. All of these truths are there – but most glaringly I think is the lesson of her seizing the chance to do something extraordinary before the moment gets away from her.
Lots of once in a lifetime opportunities seem and feel that way. Lots of decisions seem nonsensical, a waste of money, a bad use of time or even a poor choice of priorities until they are set in the context of our realizing that this may be a last chance or our one and only occasion to do something that is important to us.
William Dodd was the U.S. Ambassador to Germany during the 1930s. He was tapped for the job by FDR almost out of nowhere. As a matter of fact, Dodd really wasn’t on the President’s radar screen until several other folks declined the job. In turn, frustrated by so many rejections, and ready to move on to something else, President Roosevelt called William Dodd out of the blue while Dodd was sitting at his desk at the University of Chicago where he was a professor. The amazing part of the story is that Roosevelt, extended the invitation and gave Dodd exactly two hours to respond. Though there was so much to think about, so many questions to answer, so many pros and cons, William Dodd had exactly 120 minutes to decide if he was willing to leave his job and move his family to the other side of the Atlantic and into the unknown. In the end, he said “yes” and it was at least in part because he understood that this occasion may never come again.
There are two strand here that I want us to quickly affirm and embrace.
The first strand is to embrace that fact that seizing once in a lifetime moments does indeed relate to our living and enjoying life in general. Let’s be honest, on a regular basis, large and small opportunities come our way that quickly come and go. They come unexpectedly, they often require us to make controversial or at least conflicting decisions and sometimes they demand our willingness to suspend for the moment what in other circumstances and times would be the logical and safe thing to do.
And, yet, often times, wisdom is found in seizing the moment, living extravagantly and embracing the opportunity that will never be afforded to us again.
But, the second strand is to affirm the lesson that reminds us that being alert to once in a lifetime moments is also a key spiritual discipline as well. After all, this extravagant act of Mary was a spiritual act. Lavishing love, as she did on Jesus in that moment was a way for her to communicate both her affection and her trust in him as God’s son. She didn’t want to miss one last chance to do this in a profound, clear and unmistakable way.
You know, many of us are fairly good at seizing fleeting moments in life in general. But most of us fail to grab hold of them when it comes to the spiritual life and yet they are just as plentiful. If we are parents – we need to recognize that we will only have our children in our midst for a few, quickly passing years so we better use them wisely as we teaching them about God’s love and what it means to live as his children. If God leads us to go to Haiti, Marfa, Allendale or get involved in a local ministry, then we had better not look that opportunity in the eye and walk away. After all, next year our health, finances or life situation may fail to afford us another chance. This may be the only one. And, if God is bringing a name to our minds of someone that we need to spend time with, share faith with or do something out of the ordinary for, then we had better seize the moment because there may not be another one.
Again, let me simply remind you of John’s context for our passage. Mary’s extravagant act took place on the Saturday evening before Holy Week began the next day. We believe that Jesus was only 33 years old at the time. Which is to say that most people thought that he had a number of years ahead of him. So, what was the rush? But, the truth is that 6 days later he was dead. How do you think Mary would have felt if she talked herself out of such an outlandish act or decided to wait for another time?
Over the last few years, I have become a big user of text messaging. I really like it as a form of communication. But, I have to confess that when it comes to texting, I am more of a long hand not short hand texter which is to say, I don’t use many of the texting abbreviations. Most of the the time, I forget to just say BRB for “Be Right Back”, “TY” for Thank You or “LOL” for Laugh Out Loud.
About a year ago, a good friend of mine responded to one of my texts with YOLO. Y-O-L-O. “What does that mean,” I texted back? “You only live once,” he replied. And so you do…So you do… Amen.