The Prodigal Daughter
One of our favorite activities when we go to Cape Cod is to watch the sunrise and sunset. Every morning we try to get up in time to see the sunrise, hopping that the sky is not cloudy. Every evening, we try to hunt for the best place to watch the sunset. There were days we caught the most beautiful sunset. The beauty often takes me into a stillness making me forget about myself and gives me a sense of wonder about magnitude of God and God’s creation.
It reminds me of Psalm 46:10,
“Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.”
Most of our problem in life, including our stress and anxiety, are caused by being too aware of ourselves. We have this nagging guilt about the mistakes we made in the past. We are bogged down by the unknown fear of the future. As a result, we can’t enjoy the moment.
Mike Dennehy used to tell me that many people live with one foot in the past and the other in the future and pee on the present.
By bemoaning the past and worrying about the future, we ruin the present. Present is the only moment we have control of. As the saying goes, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is mystery, today is a gift from God, and that’s why it’s called the present.”
All the guilt and worries have to do with self-consciousness. It comes from ego. Our ego wants to change the past and control the future. In order to enjoy the moment, we must let go of the ego.
What makes you forget about yourself? What makes you enjoy the moment? It could be during worship. It could be during a mission project. It could be during Bible study, or a personal quiet time with God.
King David wrote in Psalm 27:4:
One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.
Despite having all the luxuries, King David’s greatest desire is to live in the house of the Lord every day and to “behold the beauty of the Lord.”
The beautiful sunset is merely God’s creation. If the creation is so beautiful, can you imagine how beautiful the Creator would be?
Last week we talked about the Prodigal Father. The story of the Prodigal Son should have been named the Prodigal Father because it’s all about the extravagant grace and love of the Father. The more you read that story, the more you appreciate the grace upon grace of God. It paints the most beautiful picture of God’s beauty.
No wonder those who know it, like King David, wants to spend every moment of their life beholding the beauty of the Lord. We often think God is a strict disciplinarian and a harsh autocrat, but fail to see the truth and appreciate His beauty, grace, and love.
In today’s scripture, we read the story of Mary who expressed her extravagant love for Jesus Christ. So extravagant that I called it the story of the Prodigal Daughter. The Bible says,
“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.” (v.3).
A pound of perfume is a large amount. It’s extremely extravagant. Have you ever used a pond of perfume? I have a teeny tiny bottle of Calvin Klein perfume that I have used it for twenty years. Well, it’s because I hardly use it. When I do, all I need is a drop or two to make it last a whole day. In any case, I am sure none of you would use a pound of perfume at any occasion, even if you are going to see the Queen of England.
It says it’s costly. Nard is a type of perfume extracted from the root of the nard plant, and in those days, it’s likely imported from as far east as India. That’s why it’s expansive. According to the next verse, Judas said it’s worth 300 denarii. What does it mean?
A denarius is the wage of a day’s salary in those days. So, 300 denarii are equivalent to a year’s salary. How much is the base annual salary of an American? According to IRS, it’s would be way above $30,000. Let’s say it’s $30,000. That’s $30,000 worth of perfume used up in one evening.
So, this is another sign of extravagance. A large volume of expensive perfume is poured out on Jesus.
Can you imagine how much Mary loves Jesus? This is Lazarus’s sister Mary. This is not Mary Magdalene, another Mary that loved Jesus dearly. Do you love Jesus that much?
It doesn’t end there. This type of perfume is worn for special occasions, such as dinner parties. When a king is enthroned they pour a small amount of perfume on his head to anoint him as king. However, Mary poured a pound of expensive perfume where? On Jesus feet.
Anointing the feet is the process of a funeral. So, Marry, consciously or unconsciously knew that Jesus would soon die, and he is preparing Jesus for his funeral.
We don’t know how Mary knew Jesus would be crucified soon, but he has told the disciples several times already by now, but the disciples didn’t seem to get it. When you love someone, you have this sense of ominous feeling about what they are about to encounter.
Then Mary wiped Jesus feet with her hair. According to the culture, a woman doesn’t untie her hair in public. It’s not a decent behavior, unless she is mourning. Here, Mary obviously untied her hair as she wiped Jesus feet with her hair. She is mourning Jesus’ death.
However, Judas Iscariot didn’t understand the extravagant love of this Prodigal Daughter. He expressed his righteous indigence. He said, that much money can feed a lot of poor. What a waste! He doesn’t see the beauty. He sees the waste—the ugliness. The commentator said, he didn’t really care about the poor. He was a thief.
Jesus said in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” There are two people here in this part of the story. One sees the beauty of Christ that’s worth the extravagant offering. The other doesn’t see the beauty of Christ and think what’s spent on Jesus is a waste. The corrupt heart made him fail to see the beauty.
Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” (v.7-8).
Jesus is not condemning her extravagant action. There are times in our life that we only have one special chance to express our love for God. That chance might never come again. It never did for Mary and for the disciples because Jesus went to Jerusalem from there and he was soon crucified there.
Jesus asked Judas to leave her alone. Jesus knew that she bought this perfume for his burial. Now, she is seizing the moment because she might not have the opportunity to be at Jesus burial. Who knows where or when he would be killed? This is her chance to pour out her heart.
Jesus said, “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” Jesus did teach that what we do for the poor is equivalent to doing it for him. Maybe Judas was trying to impress Jesus by showing his care for the poor.
Here’s his problem. If Jesus is right there in front of him and he doesn’t do anything to show his love for him, how could he really be serving the poor to show his love for Jesus later?
My grandma always said, “If you want to honor me, do it now. Don’t do it after I die. It’s useless to set up memorials to honor me after I die. If you don’t love me now, whatever you do for me after I die is bogus.”
Psychologically and spiritually, our extravagance to God has a powerful healing effect on our body, mind, and spirit because it indicates that we see the beauty of an extravagant love of God.
A Prodigal Daughter like Mary is a daughter of a Prodigal Father. May we all see the beauty of the Prodigal Father and become Prodigal Sons and Daughters living a life of grace upon grace. Amen!