Extravagance. This can be found everywhere in Western culture, from the billions of dollars spent on producing a blockbuster movie to the heaping platters of food served in restaurants to the amount of time and energy the average person spends in stores or on the Internet looking to purchase more stuff. I know I’m guilty of taking advantage of all of these things. We’re surrounded by consumption; everywhere we look there are more opportunities to spend money and time. And yet, too often we aren’t extravagant when it comes to giving to God.
In this story from the Gospel of John, we encounter Mary, a woman whose generosity knows no bounds when it comes to honoring Jesus, her friend and Lord, the man who raised her brother from the dead. Although the perfume Mary buys could have earned a year’s wages for a laborer, she pours it out freely over Jesus’ feet. This was outrageous in the eyes of the others in the house. How could this woman foolishly squander expensive perfume on a dirty, travel-weary pair of feet? And yet, Mary knew without a doubt that honoring the presence of Jesus with a burst of extravagance had far more integrity than putting her money into the hypocritical system Judas suggested.
What if we too could practice this kind of extravagance – one that makes no sense in the midst of cultural norms? Sure, every day we participate in a system of consumption, but we too could be like Mary. Unlike her story in the Gospel of John, the flesh-and-bone Jesus may not be standing before us: God’s presence could appear in giving money to a homeless person who asks for it, or stopping by to spontaneously visit a lonely friend, or writing a check for a non-profit that may be bigger than we think is wise. These too are examples of a different kind of extravagance, one that I believe brings us closer to God.