I knew a boy once who loved stickers. I had the privilege of going to his house one day and seeing his sticker collection. It was quite impressive. He had them stored in one of those cardboard pencil boxes from when I was a child. I asked him how he got so many different types of stickers. He told me that whenever he went to the store he used to get his mother to buy him some and then he would come home and put them in his box. He also had this other box and inside of it were about 10 rolls of stickers and each one had a different type of dinosaur on it. Then he pulled out another box which had sheets of stickers stored inside of it. I honestly think that the only place that I had seen more stickers in one place was at a store.
I asked him what he did with the stickers and he said that he uses some of them when he draws but that for the most part he keeps them in their boxes because if he used them then they wouldn’t be good anymore. I didn’t want to press him too much on why he did this at the time, but a few years later I remembered his sticker collection and I asked him about it and he said he didn’t have it anymore so I asked him what happened to it. He couldn’t remember what ever happened to his prized collection, but he also seemed like had grown out of it and this big part of his young life had disappeared and he didn’t really notice it anymore. What always struck me about that was that it really did seem so important to him and yet he kept it hidden in his closet and never really used them except for those rare drawings he added them to.
I wonder what might have happened had Mary kept that perfume in her house instead of using it on Jesus feet that day similar to that boy and his stickers. Judas indicates that it was worth about 300 denarii which would have been an average person’s yearly wages in those days. There is a good chance that this perfume, in its cost and in its quantity, was something that was an heirloom of sorts that had been passed down through the family. Either some husband had saved up for a long time to buy that or somehow they were treated very generously by someone with means. It likely was, though, something that had been passed down through the family and instead of seeing it sit on the shelf or hide in the closet, Mary decides to pull it out and use it.
Mary exhibits this lavish extravagance with Jesus and the perfume. Had hard times befallen their family they could have sold that perfume to make sure that they were taken care of for another year. What if Lazarus had not been raised from the dead? Since this is the only man mentioned in the women’s lives I believe we can assume that Lazarus had taken them into his house as was his social, familial, and religious responsibility. So the fact that our story reminds us that Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead at the beginning of our text has special significance. The story of Lazarus being raised was just two stories before the one we have today so it seems unlikely that was are being reminded because we may have forgotten. I believe it helps us to understand the reasoning behind Mary’s generosity.
Mary is so grateful for the raising of her brother and for everything else Jesus has done for her family that she is overcome with generosity. She also knows that Jesus is the messiah and she may also be anointing him with oil because she knows she will not be able to do it when the time comes for him to die.
Out of Mary’s story today we can see so many different examples of discipleship. She is generous with what she has. She is willing to serve Jesus as a servant or slave just as Jesus came to serve us. She shows love and compassion toward another person. She sets aside social stipulations like keeping her hair pulled up and keeping it clean, and instead uses what it set as important and uses it to clean and wipe up something that was considered unclean and ordinary. In this single act of perfuming Jesus feet we get a profound and complete image of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.
On the other hand and side of things we have Judas. The author John gives us some colorful commentary in the parentheses that help us get a fuller picture of the kinds of things Judas did while he was following Jesus. Judas gives us an example of what it means to be of this world. What is hard is that we see that side of Judas in all of us at times, and we strive to do more and do differently. Judas immediately puts a price tag on the perfume and tries to make this discussion about helping the poor when we know that once he gets the money he is going to use some of it for his own benefit. He sees this act not as generous and loving, but as a waste. He sees this precious heirloom being thrown on someone’s feet and then it will be gone and wasted and never be able to be used again. He sees a good monetary investment being tossed into the dirt. He wanted to be like that boy and wanted to take the perfume or the money from the perfume and hide it in a closet so that it could be counted for some later time.
What good is that? The boy forgot about his stickers one day. One day that prized physical possession just lost all its value and disappeared. Never to be seen or thought of again. Maybe that perfume could have been sold. Or maybe it could have been passed down to any children Mary or Martha had.
It could have been used for any number of things, but Mary chose to be generous with her perfume. Mary chose to show us a different way of living our lives than what we might think of doing. Mary and Judas show us two polar opposite views of life and the ways to live. We can choose to be like Judas and think of ourselves and what benefits us. or we can choose to live like Mary, a life dedicated to serving and caring for others. Knowing that is what God has called us to do.
This whole story does point us to the cross. It prepares us for that Friday when Jesus does die and is anointed for his final resting place. Except it isn’t his final resting place. God does the most extraordinary and generous thing through his son Jesus. Jesus doesn’t hold onto himself, he doesn’t hold onto the stickers, or the perfume, or the money instead he gives himself up for us so that we might know the extravagant and outrageous love God has for us. Jesus lived generously and extravagantly not for himself but for this world, and invites us to do the same. We are invited to pour out that perfume, that grace given to us so that everyone might see what a sweet fragrance it is to know Jesus. May you live extravagantly for Jesus as Jesus has given so extravagantly for us.