Saturday, March 12, 2016
What Wondrous Love Is This! Reflections on John 12.1-8 (RCL Lent 5C, 13 March 2013)
What Wondrous Love Is This!
Reflections on John 12.1-8
RCL Lent 5C
13 March 2016
Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Long before the BC Lottery Corporation came up with its well-known slogan, my grandfather taught me to know my limit and to play within it. As a professional gambler and a bookie my grandfather saw too many people who gambled too much and too foolishly. He was not about to allow his grandchildren to make similar mistakes. His rule of thumb was that you should never gamble more than you would spend on dinner and a movie. All through my university years he would ask me, ‘Are you playing any poker?’ If I answered ‘yes’, his next question was, ‘What’s the rule?’ I always knew the right answer and always followed the rule.
But playing within the limits of the rule has never stopped me from wondering what I would do if I won a multi-million dollar prize. There are the obvious things: paying off our debts, paying off our children’s student loans, tithing our winnings to the church and giving to other charities. Then there are the special things like travelling to all those places we’ve always wanted to visit and knowing that our retirement would be a bit more comfortable.
My favourite fantasies involve imagining doing some extraordinary things. If the prize were large enough, what would it be like to call up the Diocese and offer to pay the outstanding loans and debts of every parish? Wouldn’t it be great to offer every active member of the clergy in the Diocese a $2000 grant for any continuing education project they wanted to pursue? It’s thinking about the ability to do something extravagant that pleases me --- until I check my ticket and reality sets in. It’s back to being careful with expenditures and saving as much as possible --- not exciting but necessary.
Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha, had in her hands sufficient funds to do something extravagant. She knew that Jesus was on his way to Bethany. What would show him her love, her respect and her willingness to participate in the mission God had entrusted to him? Should she take the money, the equivalent of 100 days’ wages for the average worker, and find an appropriate charitable purpose? Despite the bad press that Judas has always received, his observation in today’s gospel is a reasonable one. On the other hand, was there a way she could show her devotion to the one who raised her brother from the dead and who was proclaiming a new way to live one’s life in relationship with the Holy One of Israel?
Faced with a choice between two good things, Mary chooses the extravagant gesture. Nard was an expensive and rare commodity that came from the foothills of the Himalayan mountains. It was a fragrance enjoyed by the wealthy and powerful. Now it would anoint a rabbi from Nazareth whose message challenged the wealthy and the powerful. But Mary’s extravagance was not limited to Jesus: “Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” (John 12.3) Imagine for a moment being in a room filled with a fragrance that you had no real prospect of ever smelling. Mary’s gift touches every person who is in the house, whether they are Jesus’ friends or not, whether they believe in his mission or not, all are brought within the embrace of this fragrant act of love.
My friends, each one of us has within our power the ability to make such extravagant gifts of love. It may be that there is an organization which could use our skills and which craves only a small portion of our time. It may be that there is a personal relationship that can be restored if we are willing to lay aside our pride and take the first step towards reconciliation. It may be that there is a passion within us that we have never dared to release, something as simple as painting watercolours or as grand as writing a book.
What holds us back is that little voice that says, ‘Be practical. Be reasonable. Play safely within the limits.’ But you and I believe in a God who is rarely practical, who is often unreasonable and who has a track record of playing outside the limits when it comes to creating, redeeming and renewing the creation. Are there practical things we should attend to? Yes. Should we strive to be reasonable? Most of the time. Should we play safely within the limits? Yes --- so long as those limits do not prevent us from doing something extravagant for God.
You and I have already won the lottery. We have received a windfall gift --- life with Christ in the midst of a faithful community. Every Sunday we come here to celebrate that gift by proclaiming the Word and sharing in the table. We call this act ‘the eucharist’. ‘Eucharist’ is a word that means ‘saying something good about a windfall’. We come to remember God’s impractical, unreasonable and outside-the-rules act of love in Jesus of Nazareth.
Until the kingdom of God comes in its fullness, the poor shall be among us. Our on-going ministry has been and remains to advocate and care for those who have no other advocates and no other source of support. But that does not mean that we cannot do something beautiful for God as an expression of gratitude for all that God has done for us. Build a vegetable garden that will feed others so that the bounty of creation can be shared. Renew a friendship that will nurture each other so that the lives of others is enriched. Dare to invite someone to share in the life of the Christian community so that our ministry can grow.
What wondrous love is this that one extravagant, impractical, unreasonable and beyond-the-limits act can fill the world with fragrance of God’s generous and compassionate love.