March 17, 2013–Extravagant Love

faithlens

​Contributed by Dennis Sepper, Tacoma, WA

Warm-up Question

What is the most expensive gift you ever received?  Who gave it to you?  How did it make you feel when you received it?

Extravagant Love

Nine-year-old Henry, of Newport, Kentucky, is currently battling Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  The Make-A-Wish Foundation will provide Henry an escape from his medical treatments as he meets with his heroes.

Henry’s wish is to see the cast of his favorite television show, Animal Planet’s “Tanked”.  Tanked is a program that features two Las Vegas businessmen who build wildly imaginative tanks and aquariums.  Henry will meet the stars of the program, Wayde King and Brett Raymer, and get a behind the scenes look at some of their work.

Make-A-Wish Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana fulfilled 865 wishes in the last program year.

(Contributor’s note:  If you have a local Make-A-Wish story or even one for your state, I would suggest using that story instead of Henry’s.)

Discussion Questions

  • What were you thinking about as you read the story of Henry?  How did you feel?
  • According to their website (www.wish.org) the Make-A-Wish Foundation “grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy.”  Make-A-Wish grants a wish somewhere in the country every 38 minutes.   What do you think about organizations like Make-A-Wish?  Is their work helpful and meaningful?
  • Is it possible that the dollars spent on fulfilling the wishes of the children might be better spent on, say, cancer research?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, March 17, 2013 (Fifth Sunday or Lent)

Isaiah 43:16-21

Philippians 3:4b-14

John 12:1-8

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

While I am a huge fan of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, I have to admit that I understand the point Judas makes in regards to this Gospel text from John…at least at first.  As you heard or read, Mary took a pound of perfume costing some three hundred denarii and anointed Jesus’ feet with it, so much so that the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.  To put the cost of the perfume in perspective, my Bible has a footnote which says that a day’s wage at the time of Jesus was one denarius, so Mary’s 300 denarii perfume would be worth almost an entire year’s wages.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau the median household income in the U.S was just over $50,000 in 2011.  Now just imagine someone going out, buying a $50,000 bottle of perfume and then pouring it over someone’s feet.  It just doesn’t make sense!  It just isn’t right!  Certainly the money could have been used for the poor or some other good cause.

However, consider the context of this act of Mary and one can see how she may have been moved to not count the cost of her perfume.  Just one chapter earlier (John 11:1-44) Jesus had raised Mary’s brother Lazarus from the dead…from the dead!  At this dinner in Jesus honor we are told that Lazarus was at the table with Jesus and Mary and Martha.  How could Mary not look at her beloved brother who was once dead and not feel a very deep and abiding love for the one who raised him from the dead?

What is more, we are told that this dinner took place “six days before the Passover.”  That may seem insignificant but in John’s gospel it is on this Passover day that Jesus is crucified.  This meal is Jesus last supper, not with his disciples, but with his best friends.  We also know from the Gospel writer Luke that Mary was a very good student and disciple of Jesus (Luke 10:38-42).  Perhaps Mary connected the dots and knew that Jesus was determined to go to Jerusalem and that things could go badly there.  It seems that Jesus thought so when he said “Leave her alone.  She bought it [the expensive perfume] so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.”

It was out of an extravagant love that Mary poured the expensive perfume over Jesus’ feet and then wiped his feet with her hair.  It was a custom of those times for the women to anoint a dead person with perfume.  Mary’s great love for Jesus caused her not to count the costs.

And Mary was right.  For six days later, Jesus would show extravagant love for the world by giving up his life on the cross.  In the life, death and resurrection of Jesus you and I have been forgiven and set free from sin.  We have been given a new life in Jesus Christ.  How can we possibly give rightful thanks for all that God and Jesus have done for us?

So, while indeed Judas may have a point concerning the expense of the perfume, Judas couldn’t grasp what was going on in the moment.  Judas had no understanding of the depth of Mary’s love for Jesus or of the love Jesus had for all people.  Sometimes we have to do the extravagant even when it seems crazy by worldly standards.

Discussion Questions

  • What was your first reaction to Mary’s anointing Jesus’ feet?  Was it okay for you or do you think the money could have been better spent?
  • Has anyone ever sacrificed something for you (such as time, money, something significant)?
  • Has anything motivated you to give more (time/talents/treasure) then you intended because you were so moved?
  • What possession do you most treasure?  Can you imagine ever giving it away for another person?

Activity Suggestions

There are many stories of extravagant love in the Bible.  Choose one or more of the following examples and either act out the scene or create a contemporary version of the story.

  • Abraham is willing to sacrifice his son Isaac (Genesis 22:1-18)
  • The Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32)
  • The Widow’s Mite (Mark 12:41-44 or Luke 21:1-4)
  • Joseph forgiving his brothers (Genesis 50:15-21)
  • The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)

Closing Prayer

All merciful God, as we come to this Fifth Sunday in Lent we begin to see Jesus’ determination to go to Jerusalem and to the cross.  Open our eyes and minds and hearts to the depth of your love for us.  We can never repay the debt we owe to Jesus but we can, by the power of the Holy Spirit, commit our lives and all that we have to showing forth your extravagant love to others.  In the name of Jesus we pray.  Amen.