Extravagant Love

by Rev. Beth Mallozzi
Director of Mission and Pastoral Care

John 12:1-11

Extravagant love is demonstrated by Mary. She anoints his feet with expensive perfume, almost literally worth her weight in gold. Not just with her money, but also through the intimate act of wiping his feet with her hair, Mary loves Jesus.

To Judas, this act is over the top. Like the 1900’s Hearst Castle laid in gold and jewels by Mary anoints Jesus feetnewspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst, Judas saw Mary’s pouring out of the perfume as an obscene waste and utterly irresponsible use of limited funds.

Of course, Judas is not really interested in the poor, as he claims…Judas wants to control the purse strings, so he can benefit with power. Yet, his argument in this passage does challenge those Christians who are. Jesus purpose, woven tightly with Hebrew prophecy, in his own words is “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news for the poor…” (Luke 4:18) So, Judas words are meant to condemn Mary with guilt and hypocrisy. And through Jesus’ acceptance of these gifts from her, Judas is condemning Jesus as well.

Jesus says, “Leave her alone.” Defending Mary’s action is not about the poor whom he loves. Jesus knows the betrayal, desertion, cross, death that is to come for him. Jesus honors Mary’s extravagance as an anointing for the sacrifice of his life and burial. “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me,” Jesus says. Judas now realizes that Jesus will not cooperate with Judas’ plan for power. This is Judas’ last straw before betraying Jesus for silver.

As I ponder these passages, I admit I’m not much for perfume! And when I smell a large amount of perfume, I, like Judas, can react judging it as obscene and irresponsible. The sweet smell can be powerfully invasive. Like Judas, I can see a better use of my funds. My parent’s penny pinching has rubbed off on me. And, I love the ability to support ministries with the poor.

But, Jesus is pointing to the care of his body in death. Jesus honors the extravagance as a burial rite. Mary shows love beyond measure to her Master and Lord Jesus on the week before his death.

Sir William Gladstone of Wales said, “Show me the manner in which a nation cares for its dead and I will measure with mathematical exactness the tender mercies of its people, their respect for the laws of the land and their loyalty to high ideals.”

These days, when a loved one dies, more and more families choose to cut costs. The cost of a funeral can be so expensive that even the funeral itself gets cut entirely. Why? Often the choice is made for saving money so that it can be used for other needs, the many needs of this world. Often the choice is a preference made by the person who died, raised in a generation following the Great Depression. They say, don’t make a big deal about me, don’t spend money on me.

Jesus accepts the extravagance of love, even as he gives such an extravagant love to us on the cross he bears. The sweet smell of Mary’s gift is still with us, when we remember Jesus. The sweet smell of Mary’s gift is still with us, when we honor our loved ones. May we accept the extravagant love of God, which we don’t deserve, all the days of our life and forever more.