"Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus' feet, and wiped them away 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?'"
Anthony B. Robinson
Even though John makes it pretty clear that Judas is not the good guy in this story, Judas does have a point.
Sometimes extravagance is foolish, wasteful, and just wrong. Think of huge cars that get fourteen miles to a gallon. Or of sprawling McMansions for some when others have no home at all. Or the fancy restaurants where the bill for a foursome can exceed a thousand dollars.
But there are times when extravagance is something other than foolish or wrong. There are times when extravagance is beautiful and beyond right. It's absolutely true.
And this was apparently one, for Jesus defended Mary, saying, "Leave her alone . . . You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me."
What's the difference between extravagance that is foolish and just wrong, and extravagance that is beautiful and true?
Mary's act was an act of worship. It wasn't about her. She had forgotten herself in love and devotion. On the other hand, and even though he professed concern for the poor, for Judas it was really all about himself.
Acts of extravagance in which we lose or forget ourselves (which may include a beautiful home or meal for family and guests) are seldom wrong. But even acts of charity, when they are really only about us and how we will appear to others, are seldom right.
God, grant us grace so to lose ourselves that we may be truly found. Amen.
Anthony B. Robinson, a United Church of Christ minister, is a speaker, teacher and writer. His newest book is Called to Lead: Paul's Letters to Timothy for a New Day, and he is also the author of the just-published Book of Exodus: A God is still speaking Bible Study. Read his weekly reflections on the current lectionary texts at www.anthonybrobinson.com by clicking on Weekly Reading.