Today’s Reading: Matthew 26
Every time I get a new Bible, I write the same thing in each one before I start reading. I put it right on the flyleaf. It is a five-hundred-year-old poem a prison convict wrote: “There was a man, and they called him mad; the more he gave, the more he had.” That prison convict was John Bunyan.
The more he gave, the more he had.
It doesn’t make sense. It seems like a contradiction.
The English language does this. We have words and phrases in English that seem to make no sense and at times, appear contradictory. Consider a few:
• A ship carries cargo, and a car carries shipments.
• You park on a driveway but you drive on a parkway.
• Your nose runs and your feet smell.
• The person who invests all your money is called a broker.
• And why do doctors call what they do practice? Shouldn’t they be good at it by now?
Then some words are way off in their descriptions of an item. We see an example of this in today’s reading. Jesus and His disciples saw the same event at the same time . . . but their definitions of it were so far apart that it feels contradictory. Let’s look at the story.
Jesus now proceeded to Bethany, to the home of Simon the leper. While he was eating, a woman came in with a bottle of very expensive perfume and poured it over his head. The disciples were indignant. “What a waste of good money,” they said. “Why, she could have sold it for a fortune and given it to the poor.” Jesus knew what they were thinking and said, “Why are you criticizing her? For she has done a good thing to me. You will always have the poor among you, but you won’t always have me. She has poured this perfume on me to prepare my body for burial. And she will always be remembered for this deed. The story of what she has done will be told throughout the whole world, wherever the Good News is preached.” (Matthew 26:6-13, TLB)
Here is the contradiction:
• The disciples’ interpretation of this woman’s act: “What a waste” (verse 8).
• Jesus’ interpretation: “a good thing” (verse 10).
These perspectives were based on this woman’s extravagant gift. Listen to the words of comparison. Two views of the same deed: waste and good. These are really far apart. How could someone who had been with Jesus for three years be that far off on something like this? What’s worse is that I can see myself in those disciples. How can I be with Jesus for almost four decades and still misinterpret and misdefine so badly?
This woman took Jesus seriously and became the center of attention just days before the crucifixion. What did Jesus see in this act that the disciples did not? What made it beautiful and significant?
It had the extravagance of God on it.
It was extravagant—it spared no expense; it showed a lack of restraint in using resources; it was elaborate. This woman’s act looked a lot like what God does.
Think about creation. When God created He was extravagant. He was not stingy. He could have created one star but decided that was not enough for the space, so He loaded the heavens with hundreds of billions of them.
He created everything with extravagance. He spoke and ten million insects were created, ten million species. Not one hundred, not one thousand. There are 2,500 variations of ants (most in my home) and three hundred thousand species of beetles. Extravagance.
He created more than ten thousand species of birds. Five billion birds live in the United States alone! Then He got extravagant with their personalities. Some can fly up to five hundred miles nonstop. Mallard ducks fly 60 mph; eagles, 100 mph; falcons, 180 mph. Some He created to navigate by the stars.
He created more than 28,000 species of fish.
This was God breaking His alabaster box for the world to see beauty. Everywhere you look at the world around you, you can’t miss God.
I wonder if that is why Jesus praised this woman. He saw that her act was just like what the Father does, and it caught His attention.
Mother Teresa told a story that showcases God’s extravagance toward us.
A nun once said to me, “Mother Teresa, you are spoiling the poor people by giving them free things. They are losing their human dignity…”
I said calmly, “No one spoils us as much as God himself. See the wonderful gifts he has given to us freely. . . All of you have no glasses yet you all can see. If God were to take money for your sight, what would happen? Continually we are breathing and living on oxygen that we do not pay for. What would happen if God were to say, ‘If you work four hours you will get sunshine for two hours?’ How many of us would survive then? . . . There are many congregations that spoil the rich; it is good to have one congregation in the name of the poor, to spoil the poor.”
Jesus saw extravagance in this gift. Jesus saw Himself in this gift.
It was giving the best with nothing left.
In that time, it was common to offer small amounts of fragrant ointment to refresh the dinner guests. But Mary went beyond custom and what was common. She poured the whole vial on Jesus’ head as if she were inaugurating a king to his office or, as Jesus would say later, preparing a body for burial.
The story as Mark told it put a dollar amount on it:
Some were indignantly remarking to one another, “Why has this perfume been wasted? For this perfume might have been sold for over three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.” (Mark 14:4-5)
Three hundred denarii was one year’s wages.
When was the last time you gave to God and nothing was left? Not just money . . . but in worship, in serving, in sacrifice, in a conviction that could cost you friends, reputation, and maybe a job?
I think she got overwhelmed with Jesus and thought, Everything. He gets everything because He deserves all.
God gave it all when He gave His Son and . . . in just a few days from this anointing, Jesus was about to give His everything—His life. I think Jesus saw the character of God in this gift.
When I read this story, I think of the prayer of Jim Elliot, the 1960s martyr who prayed, “Forgive me for being so ordinary while claiming to know so extraordinary a God.”
This woman got it right. An extraordinary God deserves an extraordinary gift.
Let’s not give too ordinary.