Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Lent 5: Breathing Space homily by Kevin Bright

A lady told me this year that she didn’t want flowers from her partner on Valentine ’s Day and that she would be getting jewels instead. I asked how she knew this to which she replied ‘because I showed him what I would like in the brochure’.
Extravagant gifts tend to get noticed, particularly when we know how much they cost. This usually prompts one of two reactions, either ‘how lovely for you’ or ‘what a waste of money’.
You’ve probably heard of the lady, who when asked by her husband what she would like for Christmas replies ‘a divorce’, to which he answers ‘oh no I wasn’t thinking of anything as expensive as that!’

Back in the 1980’s when the property market was booming and I was a trainee in central London it was not uncommon for clients to send gifts to the office when profitable business had been concluded. Cases of champagne were common place though there was one occasion when a colleague was told that a new BMW car had been delivered by a grateful client. 

It’s interesting to consider the motivation of people making elaborate gestures. In most business scenarios whilst the thanks is usually genuine there is probably also the hope that more of the same may follow in due course.
So what motivated Mary to take extremely valuable perfume and use it to anoint Jesus feet? Well he had raised her brother from the grave so she did have more than most to be thankful for. But in understanding what Jesus had done for her and others it seems she had also come to realise where his actions were leading and Jesus reference to a burial anointing confirms this.

If we allow ourselves to imagine that we are present in the house we can smell the sweet aroma of the perfume but there is also the tension of a backdrop which acknowledges that Jesus’ opponents are plotting against him and it’s inevitable that all this will come to a head shortly. 

John describes a moment of real tenderness between Mary and Jesus. As the fragrance fills the house Mary wipes Jesus feet with her hair. There is a sense that she knows that nothing is too good for him and want to demonstrate this in the only way available, not caring what others may think.

Of course Judas criticises her, effectively going down the ‘what a waste of money’ route. Though John explains that Judas is really motivated by his own greed and dishonesty.
It’s likely that when Mary let down her hair to wipe Jesus feet this would have turned heads. Tom Wright describes her action as the equivalent of a woman at a formal dinner party hitching up a long skirt to the top of her thighs. This just wasn’t the ‘done thing’, what sort of message was it meant to give to onlookers, to Jesus?

After someone we love dies we often start questioning ourselves as to whether they really knew that we loved them. Knowing that the answer is ‘yes’ certainly helps us find peace over time. But even then there can’t be many people who don’t look back and wish they had done something different, said that they loved the person more often or shown it more extravagantly but the chance to do so has gone. 

Perhaps Mary thinks of this and doesn’t want to look back with regret. She simply can’t wait to demonstrate her love for Jesus and seizes this opportunity to anoint Christ and proclaim her love for him now, despite the disapproval and criticism which are inevitable.
The risk she takes and her motivation for doing so are fully understood by Jesus as he tells the others to ‘leave her alone’.

Makes you think, doesn’t it. Do we sometimes hold back too much, waiting for better circumstances to do something, worrying what other people will think when really if we know it is right we should be cracking on with it? Maybe some of us have been lucky enough to be the recipients of extravagant gifts or actions from someone who loves us.

Of course alongside our human interaction we need to remind ourselves that we are loved so much by God that he gave us each a priceless gift in Christ. We’ve done nothing to deserve it and he’s got nothing to thank us for but it is still given freely. All we have to do is accept and believe.

When we take time to recognise what an extravagant gift it is and how much it cost we can’t help but want to say thank you. How we do so is for each of us to decide.

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