What is the most extravagant expression of love you have ever received? Was there ever a time someone did something for you that you will never forget?
Just a few weeks ago the newspapers were buzzing with a remarkable story. Carlos Rogers of the Toronto Raptors Basketball team was doing something incredible. He had worked long and hard to make it to the NBA. It was a dream come true. His future, all the benefits he had worked for, were right before him. Now he was possibly throwing it all away. Why? Carlos’ sister was sick, very sick. She could not survive without a new kidney. Carlos Rogers left his job in the NBA to go home and donate one of his kidneys to his sister. He knew it would end his career . . . but compared to his love for his sister, he didn’t care. Unfortunately his sister died recently . . . before she could receive the kidney. USA TODAY called Carlos Rogers the most unselfish man in the NBA.
Now that’s love.
This week millions will be spent on heart shaped candies, Valentines, flowers and underwear with hearts and cupids on them. And it will be a fun time but much of the love expressed on these days will be less than memorable only because most will do what is expected. . . .what is safe. The memorable expressions of love take place when we break the mold, do the unexpected . . . . get extravagant . . . . like Carlos Rogers . . . . and like Mary the sister of Lazarus.
The account we read this morning is also contained in Matthew 26:6ff and Mark 14:1ff. In these two accounts it appears the chronological setting is different but it appears that Matthew and Mark are concerned to give the account not in it’s chronological context but as a way to contrast the hatred of the Jewish leaders.
John gives us the timetable. It was the Saturday before Passover. It was after dusk meaning work could once again be done . . .the Sabbath was over. Jesus was in Bethany at the home of Simon. The gathering was at Simon’s house, very possibly because Simon’s house was bigger than the rest of the homes in Bethany.
Martha, Lazarus’ sister was in the kitchen. . . where she always was. Lazarus and the other men were out at the table eating and enjoying each other’s company. It was a pivotal night. During this next week things would happen so fast these friends would lose their breath. Tomorrow Jesus would march into Jerusalem among the cheers of the crowd but facing the hostility of the rulers of Jerusalem. In fact they were so determined to stop his increasing popularity that they were willing to take extreme measures. So extreme were these measures that next week at this same time . . . Jesus would be dead.
It was into this setting that our story unfolds.
Mary comes into this gathering of men carrying what was probably and exquisite vase which contained about twelve ounces of expensive perfume. Mark tells us that it was worth about 300 denarii. In today’s money that would be roughly $10,000.00! Valuable perfume such as this was often an heirloom. It was an investment, a nest egg.
Mary broke the vase and poured this perfume on the head (see Mark and Matthew) and feet of Jesus. She expressed her gratitude, love and devotion in this one act of extravagant yet humble love.
The Response . . .
Whenever someone does something extravagant there will be critics. This was no exception. There were two primary criticisms:
First, the critics said, “What a Waste!” Can’t you hear them? A lesser perfume would have been just as effective. Or, less of the perfume would have been just as effective. But, would it?
Second, the critics said, “How irresponsible!” This is the guilt response. The thought is, that if the perfume had been sold and the money was given to the poor . . . so much more good could have been accomplished. Doesn’t this sound a little like mom when she used to say: “You know, there are children in Africa who would love to eat that food!”
But our text tells us that there were also hidden reasons behind the criticisms. Judas was thinking how nice it would have been if they had sold the perfume, put it in the treasury so he could have done something really nice . . . . for himself.
Have you ever heard an adult child complaining about how irresponsible their parents are behaving by going on a cruise, or taking some expensive vacation or buying some extravagant item? You get the feeling that they are really not concerned about their parents at all. Their chief concern is the fact that they feel their parents are spending THEIR INHERITANCE.
Mary is honored by the Lord because:
- She gave the Lord Her Best
- She gave without reluctance or hesitation
- She gave in spite of the critics
- She gave out of a heart of love
Critics be silenced! What Mary did was beautiful!
It’s a great account isn’t it? But what can we learn? Let’s listen to what Jesus tells the critics:
God loves extravagant expressions of love
Listen to these words in Mark 14….”She has done a good thing”. Mary, according to Jesus, was preparing his body for burial. Her act was like those who bring flowers to the one dying . . . before they die.
Think about something. All that perfume surely soaked into Jesus’ garments – his belt, his coat, his sandals his outer garment. Surely he bathed and washed but his outer garments might have retained the aroma for days . . . maybe the entire week. I wonder if during the course of the coming week if there were times in the discouraging moments when the wind blew just right and He smelled the aroma of the lingering perfume and found encouragement as He remembered Mary’s expression of love.
God loves the extravagant. Think about the Tabernacle and the Temple. These were extravagant houses of worship. There was nothing cheap or “adequate” about these places. It was first class all the way.
Have you read the Book of Revelation? Do you see the way the New Jerusalem is described . . . streets of gold, walls laced with precious stones? A little extravagant don’t you think? God loves it.
The church of early years understood this. In Europe they were not content to erect a sanctuary. They built Cathedrals! What great places of worship these places are. You walk into one of these houses of worship and you feel the sense of awe and the love that provoked such extravagant, impractical, overly expensive places of worship. And God loved it!
And what about that Sistene Chapel. Do you think the people who hired Michaelangelo got some criticism? Here they wanted the ceiling painted and it took the guy 4 years! And why not just use a brush and paint something quaint . . . .9 panels depicting the first chapters of Genesis? And think about it . . . every day a new section of ceiling would be newly plastered and the artist, using frescos would have to paint that section before it dried. Come on! Lighten up Man! Any surprise that centuries later his work is considered a masterpiece?
Chuck Swindoll writes,
We used to laugh at a comment one of the American astronauts made years ago, but the laughter has hushed since the Challenger tragedy. The way the story goes, someone stuck his head inside the nose capsul before the team of astronauts had launched and asked, “Well, how does it feel?” With a grin, one of them replied, “It really makes you think twice in here when you realize everything in this whole project was constructed according to the lowest bid!” Many – dare I say, most – conduct their entire lives “according to the lowest bid.”
— Must all the places where God is represented look mediocre?
— Must all the furnishings be of lowest quality or just moderate?
— Must every semblance of art be omitted?
— Must we live all our lives under constant restraint and self-imposed guild, for fear of being told that we are overlooking the poor?
— Must everything be just “adequate”? Why not occasionally use something of the highest quality?
“There’s an old theatrical expression actors sometimes us in jest when a person is about to go out on the stage: “Hey, break a leg.” I’ve got a new one for the quality-minded, high-flying eagles. When we great each other: “Hey, break a vase!” [LIVING ABOVE THE LEVEL OF MEDIOCRITY]
Take Your Opportunities When You Get Them
Jesus also told these critics, “The poor you always have with you but I am only here a little while.” Now Jesus is not telling us to disregard the poor. He is not telling us to live self-indulgently. Jesus is telling us to make the most of the opportunities that come our way. When you have a chance to show love in an extravagant way . . . . break a vase!
How many have you known who lived their whole life saving for some future day only to die with a bunch of money in the bank. God wants us to live! He wants us to use what we have to give Him praise and glory!
Extravagant Expressions of Love are not soon forgotten
The Gospel of Mark records these words of Jesus, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.
Can you think of a time when someone did something special that they didn’t have to do . . . . that they weren’t expected to do? If you have had that wonderful experience you won’t ever forget it
- they traveled way out of their way because they cared
- they stayed the night with you in a quiet hospital room
- they gave you a gift that touched you to the core of your being
- they met a need that seemed impossible
- they made it possible for you to do something you’ve always wanted to do
The frequent expressions of love are like oxygen to us . . . we need them. But those extraordinary acts of love . . . .we return to them again and again and enjoy their sweet aroma over and over.
When was the last time you “broke a vase?”
When was the last time you did something for someone that was not the sensible, safe thing to do?
Friend, when was the last time you did something extravagant in life? (A long desired trip, a change in careers, a special time with the one you love)
Most importantly, have you ever done something extravagant out of your love for the Lord? Have you ever “let yourself go” and broken a vase . . . spurning the “nay-sayers”, focusing only on the Lord? Have you ever thrown caution to the wind and let love for the Savior guide your heart?
I don’t know where that kind of love might lead us. . . .I don’t know what opportunities may be available to you. I don’t know how I might be able to love Him extravagantly…… But then, if we knew what we were supposed to do . . . it wouldn’t be extravagant. It wouldn’t be the kind of love that was expressed by Carlos Rogers, or Mary the sister of Lazarus. It wouldn’t be the kind of love that creates an aroma that brings delight even in the worst of circumstances.
Look for an opportunity, my friend. Keep your eyes wide open. And when you find that opportunity . . . . Break a Vase!