An Extravagant Ointment
--An Extravagant Love
a sermon based on John 12:1-8
by Rev. Heather McCance
week or so ago someone was telling me about attending an Italian wedding they had attended
last summer. The bride was the only daughter in the family, and her parents took out
a second mortgage on their home in order to pay for the $20,000 affair. Live band,
tons of food, five hundred guests or more. And all of it over in just a day.
Nothing beyond eight hours to show for the 20 Gs. Only Atlantic City could
equal that much money blown in a single night.
A few centuries ago, a
woman spent $20,000 on a jar of scented ointment and rubbed it into the feet of a
houseguest. He was a special person, well respected and well loved, but still.
All of it over in just a few minutes. Nothing lasting to show for it.
a giving of so much that it ceases to make any kind of logical sense at all. People
outside will always be critical of such extravagance. Why wasn't that money used for
a down payment on the newly married couple's first home? Why wasn't the ointment
sold and the money given to the poor? People outside of the extravagant act will
think it foolish, wasteful, perhaps even sinful.
But for those making the
extravagant gesture, it seems the only thing to do. Only such lavish giving of
themselves and all that they have can rightly express the depth and the intensity of their
feeling, of their love, at that moment.
Most of us aren't good
at extravagance. In our society, people get worried when the price of gas goes up by
three or four cents a litre (which, when I fill up my car, makes a difference of a
whopping $2.00 or so). We're so ruthlessly practical that we've lost a sense of the
richness of giving.
And being unable to
understand another person's generosity is bad enough. But it seems to me that this
inability to appreciate generosity in another person can all too often be a symptom of a
lack of generosity in one's own soul.
Crummy. It's one
of those derogatory words we were allowed to use when I was growing up, in place of any
number of other words we which were not allowed to use. As in, what a crummy spring
we're having. Or, I did crummy on my math test at school today. Or, my sister
is a crummy-head (although that last was discouraged, too).
I found out this week
where the word came from. It started out describing the handouts received by poor
beggars; literally, they were given the crumbs, the scraps, from the tables of the rich.
It reminds me of the Grinch, who left nothing in the homes of the Whos for
Christmas morning but a crumb that was even too small for a mouse.
Not even worth keeping for myself, but good enough to give as charity to someone
Every once in a while,
I'll get a phone call from the Diabetes Association, or the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, or
the Community Living Association, asking whether I have some clothes or household items
that I'm not using, that they can sell to raise money. It seems that these other
charities are moving in on the junk-selling fundraising territory that used to be split
between the Salvation Army and Goodwill. And so, maybe twice a year, I put out a bag
or two of stuff that we're not going to use anyway to help out some worthy cause or
another. But every time I do it, as I'm putting the bags on the front porch to be
collected, I can't help feeling like I'm getting rid of stuff I don't want. I'm
stuck by the similarity to taking out the garbage. It's truly crummy charity.
Interesting, isn't it, that the root word of Charity is love.
God has been so
unfailingly generous, so extravagant with awesome gifts to each one of us. Our very
lives we hold as gift; everything we own we have only on loan from our Creator, who has
made it all. And overarching it all is the gift of God's only Son, whose coming into
the world to live and teach and heal and die broke God's heart in two and yet gave to all
of us the incredible gift of salvation, of never having to fear death, and the possibility
that we might journey towards unity with our God.
And in return for the
extravagant love and generosity of God to us, what we give in return is all too often
Leftover money, after
we've looked after our own needs and a great many of our wants, as well. Leftover
time, after choosing, and it is a choice, to spend so much of our time being busy with
work or clubs or family or whatever else we do. And so God's work, be it the work of
church or charity, gets our leftovers. Spending time with God in prayer gets maybe
five minutes at the beginning or ending of the day, and maybe on half of our days we get
so busy that God often doesn't even get that. Crummy, isn't it?
God doesn't expect us to
spend $20,000 on some extravagant gesture. The amount of money doesn't matter; Jesus
himself talked about how the widow's mite, those two copper coins placed in the Temple
treasury, were worth more to God than the larger gifts given by those who could afford to
And, in fact, God
doesn't want us feeling guilty when we don't give more time or treasure or talent than we
But what we are called
to in this Lenten season, the goal of the disciplines of fasting and penitence and prayer
and almsgiving and study of scripture, is a deeper love of the God who first loved us.
After all, it was love for their daughter that motivated the extravagance of the
Italian parents on her wedding day. It was love of Jesus that motivated the
extravagance of Mary of Bethany when he came for supper the week before he died.
God loves us,
extravagantly. The challenge of this Lenten season is in how we respond to that
love, that love in which we live and move and have our being. Is our response
crummy, the leftovers of our all-too often busy and stressed-out lives? Or is it an
extravagant, self-emptying gesture that comes from the fullness of joy in our hearts in
what our God has done for us?
It's not about living
out of a sense of guilt, about what we owe God. Trying to live that way is
pointless, because we can never repay the gifts we've been given, can never make up for
what we owe to our God.
Instead, our giving
extravagantly of ourselves to our God is about loving the Lord our God, with all our mind
and soul and heart and strength. Not about guilt, not even about duty, but about
love. An extravagant love, nothing crummy about it, our response to the extravagant
love our God has for us. Amen.