Extravagant Love

Given the evidence in our founding documents, it is truly ironic that the Church became a male-dominated institution. A consistent theme throughout the Gospels is that the male disciples don’t “get it,” but the women do. The Gospel for the Monday of Holy Week (John 12:1-11) is no exception. Not long after Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead, and “six days before the Passover, we are told that “Jesus came to Bethany” to be with Mary, Martha and Lazarus. (The text doesn’t tell us whether all his disciples joined him, but we soon find out that Judas is also there.)  In this story, we find out that Martha and Mary embody the love of God and neighbor: Martha “served” the dinner (the Greek word here for “serve” is the word for ministry); and Mary shows her love for Jesus by anointing him with an extravagant amount of “costly perfume.”

Although we shouldn’t lose sight of Martha in this story, on this Monday in Holy Week our attention is appropriately drawn to Mary. As we begin the most important week in the Church’s calendar, the invitation today is to spend Holy Week lavishing our love on Jesus. Yes, like Martha we may have ways we need to serve others, but this is a week to discover the source of our service. You see, the fact of the matter is this: At the end of the day we follow Jesus, not because it is a good idea, but because we are madly in love with him.

Let’s be honest: Following Jesus isn’t all that attractive.  After all, what is attractive about loving our enemies? What is attractive about forgiving people who hurt us? What is attractive about fighting injustice? What is attractive about doing things that often make you suspect in the eyes of others? Therefore, if following Jesus degenerates into merely an ethical imperative, it won’t have any legs; it is just too difficult. We follow him, not because it is a good idea, but because we love him. This is what Mary shows us. Mary has come to understand the magnitude of the gift in front of her. Therefore, lavishing perfume on him that costs 300 denarii—a year’s salary for the average laborer—isn’t wasteful; it makes all the sense in the world.

Such extravagance makes sense if we see the extravagance of the gift sitting before us. This is what we want to discover this week. How do we discover this? There isn’t a magic formula. Such gratitude is a gift. In order to open ourselves to receiving this gift, it may be helpful to spend some time reflecting on your own relationship with Jesus. When did you first get to know him? Have there been significant moments when his words and risen presence have deeply touched you? Recently, I have been reflecting on the significant chapters in my life in preparation for a week-long conference I am attending in April. As I looked back over my life, I once again realized that my four years in college were the most pivotal in my life. In addition to meeting my wife, which would have been gift enough, I encountered Jesus for the first time through reading the entire Gospel of John one night. Those two hours changed my life. What was it that I discovered in those pages? All I can say is that although I had been raised in a loving family and been blessed abundantly by others in my formative years, I had never experienced a love like what I found on those pages. Something about this guy Jesus made its way into me and it was as though he were pouring costly perfume all over me. And what is absolutely true is this: Whatever I have been able to do for Jesus since then is grounded in what he did for me?

In today’s story, Judas hasn’t yet discovered the gift before him and complains that the proceeds from this perfume should have been used to care for the poor. Judas hasn’t yet discovered the gift and neither have rest of the male disciples in the Gospel tradition. We shouldn’t be too hard on Judas or the rest of the disciples. After all, don’t we too oftenb miss the gift before us. Don’t we also cover our blindness to this gift with pious objections. And best news of all is this:  Jesus just keeps lavishing love on us whether we get it or not; so that when do see the gift we will be even more blown away by how much he loves us.