Dear beloved of God, grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ. Amen.
I think Judas is a sympathetic character in this story. Don’t you? At least a little bit? I mean sure, there’s the whole stealing from the common purse indictment that the author of John’s gospel dumps on him here, but really when you stop to think about it Judas does have a point.
An entire year’s worth of wages spent on perfume? I mean, I’m all for smelling good, but geez that’s excessive. Even if Judas’ motivations for critiquing Mary’s act are questionable, you know like he wanted to skim some of the money for himself, what he says is right. There are so many other ways to use a year’s worth of wages: good uses, holy uses, faithful uses. But all that money spent on a luxury item and then to use it all at once. It seems so gratuitously wasteful, doesn’t it?
I mean just think for a second. Of all the things that could be done with the money that an average worker makes in a year. The median household income in Minnesota is something around $50,000 a year. Even if you half that, assuming that it’s a dual-income household. That’s $25K. Gone. Like that. Poured out on Jesus’ feet and mopped up with Mary’s hair. It’s baffling and a little gross and a little too intimate. I can sympathize with Judas. This is weird and awkward and certainly not how I would have done things.
I’m pretty good at second-guessing from a distance. Standing on the sidelines, partially engaged but not completely. From that point of view, I can come up with all kinds of different ideas and scenarios about how things could’ve and should’ve have gone. I feel like that’s what Judas is doing. Sitting back, armchair quarterbacking, saying that’s not what I would have done. We all have a little Judas in us.
But we also have a little Mary inside us too. Don’t believe me? You look at what she’s doing and you’re like I could never do that. Don’t be so sure. Think about it for a second. Her brother was dead. Four days dead. He was dead and buried. And now just a few days later he sitting and breathing and eating right there at home with her. And the person who was responsible for him breathing is sitting at your dinner table what would you do?
How do you show your gratitude, your love? I think you do the unthinkable. You transgress some boundaries. You find yourself doing something you’d never thought you’d do. You love recklessly. You love extravagantly. You get close, sharing life with the one who gives you life.
As a part of this job, I get to see couples love each other into death. I get to see partners care for their beloved until they take their final breath in this life. I see them care for their partner, do things for their partner that they never would have imagined doing when they said their vows decades earlier. But there they are, feeding their beloved, cleaning their beloved, holding their beloved as they pass from this world into the next. They are loving extravagantly, excessively.
I watch family members hold vigil at the bedside of their beloved ones. They spend hours and days doing nothing but holding one another, telling stories and pouring love into the one who is leaving them. By all measures, they are wasting time. They could be making money. They could be working. They could be helping the poor. Of course, that sounds ridiculous. They are doing exactly what they need to do. They are doing things they never imagined doing, things they never wanted to do, yet they are important and holy and generous. They are being like Mary. They are anointing their loved one for death with love. They are loving recklessly and extravagantly.
Parents you do this for your children. You love them in ways you never could imagine. You do things for them that you thought you never could or would. Children do this for their parents. We do this for our friends. Strangers do it for strangers, in moments of crisis when the circumstances demand it, we human beings act in love towards one another, excessive love, reckless love, extravagant love. We don’t count the cost. We believe that we are a part of something bigger, more important, more holy and so we risk everything and pour ourselves into what matters most. Each of us has a bit of Mary within us ready to be brave and bold and to love in big and generous ways.
So how do we leave our inner Judas behind so that we can tap into the courageous Mary within us? Well, I would suggest that we begin by recognizing that we share something in common with the Jesus we encounter in this story.
When Mary pours all of the oil onto Jesus’ feet and tenderly wipes them with her hair, she’s preparing his body for what’s to come. She’s carefully and lovingly preparing Jesus for his death. But for Jesus, and for you and me, death isn’t the final destination. Mary has also anointed Jesus for rule in his coming kingdom, she’s recognizing that Jesus has been set apart for a different kind of rule, a rule that ushers in life and hope and healing for all people. Mary’s seemingly excessive gift sets the stage for the greatest and most lavish gift of all as Jesus pours out his life for you and for me and for the whole world.
You are Christ’s beloved. He has given you everything he has. You too have been set apart, anointed to live with a generous abandon. There are all kinds of reasons not to. There are all kinds of reasons to stay on the edges, to occupy Judas’ place of rigid practicality, reasons to say I can’t, or not now, or I will when the time is right. But that is not what you have been set apart to do or to be. You, beloved people of God, have been remade to live with excessive and extravagant love. You get to be generous without measure.
For see you’ve not just had your brother restored to life, you and your beloved, you and your community, you and this whole world have been given new life, eternal life, God’s own life. You have been given and entrusted with the most beautiful of gifts. So do the unthinkable. Use it excessively and extravagantly in service of the one who loves you and gave his life for you. Amen.