“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
“Extravagant” can be a dirty word in the church. Out of a well-meaning desire to be wise with money and resources, church leaders can often be slow to spring for professional equipment, comfortable furnishings, or excellent food due to cost. We don’t want to waste the Lord’s money, so we keep things as cheap as we can.
I’m guilty of this. For years I used to struggle getting the projection system working at our church’s second location, The Tabernacle. I would head to Amazon and buy the least expensive video converters I could, with the hope that they would overcome the wonky wiring of the Tabernacle. And each year, those pieces of equipment would fail, and I would have to buy something again. Until, at last, I gave up on the cheap stuff, purchased the professional-grade (and professional-cost) equipment - and have been problem free ever since.
While unwise and foolish spending is certainly frowned upon in Scripture, extravagance can in fact be a virtue, particularly when in the context of a believing community. You probably know that the early Israelite community was commanded to save (tithe) ten percent of their income. But do you know how they were to spend that savings? Read Deuteronomy 14:
Then you shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that the Lord your God chooses and spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household.
Later on, we see that this celebration is to be shared with, “the Levites, the immigrants, the orphans, and widows” (v. 29).
Can you imagine if you saved 10% of your income, just so you could blow it on a party — and you invited religious professionals, immigrants, and marginalized people to that party too?
Jesus lived out of an extravagant-mindset. His first miracle is to keep the wine flowing at a week-long wedding celebration. Jesus feeds crowds of thousands until they’re full — and there’s always baskets of food leftover! He tells parables of a wedding feast where everyone - even everyone living in the gutter - is invited.
When Mary, the sister of Lazarus, invites Jesus into her home, after a period of time when Jesus has been on the lamb from the authorities, she imitates Jesus’ extravagance. She pours $36,000 worth of perfume onto Jesus’ feet. This sounds extreme, but considering the fact that her brother just came back from the dead, I’m sure it felt not at all like sacrifice to Mary. What I love about her sacrifice is that it fills the whole house with a beautiful fragrance. Her extravagant gift gets to be enjoyed by all!
When we hold back on extravagant giving to the church, we need to ask ourselves what we are missing out on when we don’t share with our spiritual community.
When a church holds back on extravagance, it needs to ask itself what it is communicating about God’s extravagance to the world.
Of course, this kind of extravagance is in the context of 1 Corinthians 13 kind of love. Of not being envious or boastful. It’s not self-seeking, it doesn’t keep records of who gave more at what time or place. Jesus-like extravagance is about the other person, about the well-being of the entire community. And, of course, when we all practice that kind of extravagance, we all benefit.
How can I show the extravagance of God this week to a friend, family member, stranger, or to my church?