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Unashamed, Extravagant Affection for the Son of God (2)

We looked yesterday at the remarkable story in Mark 14:1-11 and I asked the question: What words best describe your affection and love for Jesus. Would you call it unashamed and extravagant? If not, why not? Continue reading . . . 

We looked yesterday at the remarkable story in Mark 14:1-11 and I asked the question: What words best describe your affection and love for Jesus. Would you call it unashamed and extravagant? If not, why not? Let’s look again at the story:

It was now two days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth and kill him, for they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar from the people.” Jesus Anointed at Bethany And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”

Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. And when they heard it, they were glad and promised to give him money. And he sought an opportunity to betray him (Mark 14:1-11).

We don’t know what motivated Judas. Everyone has a theory: Jealousy? Disappointment? Wounded pride? Greed? What’s important is how the response to Jesus of both Mary and Judas reveals in starkly contrasting colors the nature of their devotion to him. It’s not different for us. Look closely and let the contradiction between the two stir your soul.

• For Mary, no price is too high to expend on Jesus. For Judas, any price will do in exchange for him.

• For Mary, the worth of Jesus is immeasurable. For Judas, 30 pieces of silver will do just fine, thank you very much.

• Mary acted in humility and bowed in his presence to serve him. Judas acted in haughtiness and rose up to sell him.

• Mary determined what she might give as an expression of love for Jesus. Judas determined what he might get in exchange for Jesus.

• To Judas, Jesus was nothing but livestock to be sold at auction. To Mary, Jesus was truly livestock of a sort: the precious Lamb of God prepared for slaughter.

• Mary saw Jesus as the one whose spiritual worth evoked sweet gratitude. Judas saw Jesus as the one whose material worth evoked selfish greed.

• As an expression of her devotion, Mary believed in him. As an expression of his deceit, Judas betrayed him.

• For Mary, money was no object as an expression of her love for Jesus. For Judas, money was precisely the object he hoped to gain in exchange for Jesus.

• For Mary, material things were a means (an instrument, a tool) to be used on behalf of Jesus, her goal. For Judas, Jesus was a means to be used on behalf of material things, his goal.

• Judas saw Jesus as someone in exchange for whom he could get money. Jesus saw Mary as someone in exchange for whom he would give his life.

• Judas filled the room with the stench of betrayal. Mary filled it with the sweet-smelling aroma of adoration and affection.

• Mary spilled a costly perfume for Jesus. Jesus spilled his priceless blood for her.

We need to ask ourselves a question: “Is there a lid on the perfume of our passion? Or are we willing, like Mary, to break the bottle of our pride, of our very lives, and pour out our love and adoration and praise?” Most of us have been accused, often falsely, of any number of things. But rarely, and sadly, have I met someone who is consistently charged with being an extravagant lover of Jesus. I’m grieved by this, but no one has ever accused me, at least to my face, of “wasting” my time and money and energy on Jesus.

The objection is quick in coming: “But if I do, what will others think? What will they say?” When we give ourselves wholly to Jesus people will always misunderstand. Spiritual extravagance almost always leads to criticism. Even your friends will misjudge you and your family will take offense. Worst of all, churchgoers may ask you to leave! We expect the world to mock us. The values of our society are so warped that we should never be surprised by its disdain. But all too often even Christians and church leaders will deem as wasteful and excessive our worship of Jesus.

Let’s not forget that those who took issue with Mary included Peter and John and Matthew and Andrew and James, among others. I suspect that even Simon and Lazarus had their doubts about what she did. People who “like” Jesus and “respect” him, who even sing songs about him, will often be the first to scold you for the uninhibited and extravagant display of your deep delight in the friend of sinners.

For many in the church, anything above and beyond the minimum is too much. To exceed the traditional, to cross the boundaries of what they deem socially appropriate and proper, will be deemed as waste. Jesus calls it beautiful.

True love never calculates. Genuine worship is never measured. Authentic affection never asks, “How little can I give and still meet the accepted standards of decency?” True, heartfelt adoration never asks, “What is the minimum I can get by with and not be thought of by others as holding back?” The heart of true worship is unfamiliar with the word “enough” and utterly oblivious to what is deemed fitting by others. The disciples, and especially Judas, thought Mary had gone way overboard and had wasted this precious perfume. “Mary, be reasonable,” they said to themselves. “Where is your sense of proportion?”

I’m convinced that if Mary felt anything at this moment it was that she had given too little. We’ll explore this in our concluding article on this story tomorrow.

To be continued . . .

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