Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. But Judas said, “Why was this perfume not sold and the money given to the poor?” – John 12:3, 5
I used to volunteer at a food bank. The donations, some of which came from individuals and others from stores, weren’t the cream of the crop.
Packaged foods with sell-by dates that had passed, canned foods that were dented, pastries that were no longer fresh, fruits and vegetables too bruised to sell.
Judas would have approved. No wasteful extravagance there. The poor got the leftovers.
The only times when the food bank felt remotely extravagant were the occasional days the food bank got chicken. You could tell when it was a chicken day because the line outside suddenly ballooned as people texted family and friends the news: “Chicken!”
In Karen Blixen’s short story “Babette’s Feast,” which was made into a movie in 1987, a parsimonious and dying Scandinavian religious community took in a refugee from the Franco-Prussian War, Babette. Not knowing that Babette was an extraordinary French chef, the pinched saints set her to the task of preparing their daily meals of boiled fish and potatoes, which was roughly on par with asking Einstein to keep track of your checkbook.
When Babette discovered she had the winning ticket in the French lottery, she spent the entire sum—10,000 francs—to prepare a feast for the fastidious members of the tiny sect. Bags, boxes, and crates of fine wine, cheese, meats, vegetables and fruits arrived. The finest pastry flour, spices and cream.
Babette’s extravagance scared them. They thought she might be a witch.
Extravagance can do that. Scare us. It scared Judas.
And extravagance, God’s extravagance, can save us. Mary anointed Jesus so extravagantly because she understood, and did not fear, the extravagant mercy of God.
God forgive us our fear of your mercy, of your love, of your extravagance.
Tony Robinson, a United Church of Christ minister, is a speaker, teacher, and writer. He is the author of many books, including What’s Theology Got to Do With It: Convictions, Vitality and the Church. You can read Tony’s “Weekly Meditation” and “What’s Tony Thinking?” at his website, www.anthonybrobinson.com.