March 15, 2013

Re-imagining extravagance

By Hillary Harder, a junior music and Spanish double major from Wichita, Kan.
SCRIPTURE: John 12:1-8 (NRSV)

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.

SCRIPTURE: John 12:1-8 (NRSV)
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, ‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?’ (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’



Comments (5)

  1. Hi, Hillary! Gloria’s mom here. Thank you for this meditation! It inspires me to use this passage to introduce our little recital that Petra and I are giving this eve. The gift of a piece of music is like that perfume – poured out in a present moment and gone … Yet to Jesus the costly perfume was not “gone.”

    RuthE March 15, 2013 |
  2. Really appreciate your message this morning… great timing of the Spirit’s work in my life today! Blessings.

    Diana Thomas March 15, 2013 |
  3. Very inspiring!

    Oswaldo March 16, 2013 |
  4. Thanks for sharing this word with us. I am borrowing your comments on “giving extravagantly” as I am the worship leader this morning….so inspiring, thanks again.

    Amy March 17, 2013 |
    • Amy, we are grateful that these writings can be put to further use in worship contexts (though appropriate credit is also appreciated). Blessings to you and your congregation. – Jodi Beyeler, devotions editor

      Devotions Editor March 18, 2013 |