Jesus Anointed at Bethany:This passage is found also in the other three gospels. Matthew and Mark do not identify the woman. Luke says it was a “woman who had lived a sinful life” (possibly Mary Magdalene), and John says it is Mary sister of Martha.
3While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.
4Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, "Why this waste of perfume? 5It could have been sold for more than a year's wages and the money given to the poor." And they rebuked her harshly.
6"Leave her alone," said Jesus. "Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. 8She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. 9I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her."
In any case, this woman who is familiar with Jesus pours an alabaster jar of nard on Jesus, anointing Him just days before his crucifixion. Nard is a rare and expensive spice from the Himalayas and was very expensive. A typical alabaster jar was thin and not more than 6 or 8 inches high. Someone present says it is worth more than a year’s wages. So this is equivalent to a $40,000 dollar bottle of CK Obsession for Men. It is probably her most treasured possession. But instead of a light spritz, she breaks the whole jar and empties it completely on Jesus.
"Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year's wages and the money given to the poor." And they rebuked her harshly.The practical part of me agrees with that voice in the crowd. There could be much better uses for something so valuable. They could do a lot of good with that money, or at least use the perfume slowly in sane amounts. I’m sure Jesus knew that also, but He rebukes the crowd. He calls it a beautiful act. He accepts this act of worship and here we are reading about it 2000 years later.
"Leave her alone," said Jesus. "Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me…You will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her."We learn to be practical and efficient, and those are useful qualities. This is how we balance our responsibilities and survive as students, as employees and as Christians. We need to be practical and efficient to be good stewards of what God has given us. But guess what? God is not impressed with our practicality, at least not in worship. In a relationship, a girl would never say to her boyfriend, “Boyfriend, I love that you are able to love me so efficiently.” That's not how relationships work.
The same goes for our relationship with Christ. Spending time with God is not about getting the biggest return for our investment. If it were, we shouldn’t be developing a relationship with Him, we should be developing a portfolio. But that’s how we treat it sometimes. If we invest a certain amount of time into prayer and church and discipleship and people, we hope to get a certain amount of return on the investment in the form of blessings or growth.
Except Jesus shows us that worship is not about practicality, it is about EXTRAVAGANCE. In no other situation would it be beautiful to use a $40,000 bottle of perfume like that. And it is not about the amount of money either. The poor widow who gave her only 2 pennies was no less extravagant. It is about the heart and the circumstances behind the act. The kind of worship that pleases God is the kind that turns its back on practicality to say that He is deserving of all glory and every glory. When we give extravagantly we are telling God that He is our real treasure. We are saying that our earthly treasures come from Him anyway and that we value the giver more than the gift.
Practicality is about returns, extravagance does not care. There are two ways to fix a car. One way is to fix it for functionality, to replace what is broken just to get it running. This is the most efficient way. The second way is to restore it, to meticulously make sure that every nut and bolt is shiny, even polishing the underside that no one will ever see. Very few people will be able to appreciate the time and effort that goes into it. But that car becomes more than just transportation, it becomes a treasure to it's owner. So how do we treat our worship? Do we just make sure that it runs or do we make it shine?
Extravagant worship does not neglect our responsibilities; the poor, in this example. It is displaying faith that God doesn’t need us to carry out His will. He wants our focus to be on Him first. Everything else, even our mission and ministry and responsibilities come second to that. Extravagant worship demonstrates trust that God will provide for everything else.
This could mean setting aside our most attentive hour of the day for quiet time, or putting extra time into a banquet skit to make it perfect, or staying up all night to comfort a friend. It is basically going the extra mile when it comes to God. Matthew 5:40-41 says,
If someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.Go two miles for God, even if you can get away with going just one. The extra mile is the one that really puts a smile on God’s face. The extra mile silences the voices which say that the perfume could have been used for more practical purposes. Not for a return on the investment, but for love and out of genuine worship. Efficiency is not a fruit of the spirit.
I speak as one who has failed at this continuously. I love efficiency. There’s nothing wrong with being efficient or practical, but I know I have missed out on a lot of blessings because of it. Homework and studying took me away from worshiping extravagantly when I was an undergrad. I was always looking for a quick exit from ministry activities so I could study for that midterm or finish that problem set. Looking back now I barely remember any of my classes but I would give anything to be able fellowship with my class again. At work, my desire for a professional image keeps me from extravagant worship. I don’t want to be known as a Jesus freak and I want to be respected by my colleagues. This year as staff, maybe worst of all, I have accepted the adequate completion of tasks as a substitute for extravagant worship. I hope you guys don’t make the same mistakes.
Once again, our relationship with God is not to be reduced to a portfolio, to investment versus return. He has already given us the most extravagant gift of all in Jesus Christ. He is deserving of worship of the same caliber.
[UCLA ICA, 5-21-2009]