|The Unction of Christ, mixed media on canvas. Julia Stankova|
Friday, March 11, 2016
Mary is an example of discipleship: generous, over the top, wildly inappropriate.
When the pastor of my home congregation found out I was considering seminary, he called to let me know that the congregation would cover the full amount of tuition. This was astonishing to me on so many levels. My own parents had not offered to pay for my college education, let alone graduate school. Now here out of the blue was the church, offering to give thousands of dollars a year, for several years. I had had no expectation that congregations ever could or would do things like this. I could hardly believe this incredible gift! It just seemed too extravagant to be possible.
However, it would turn out that the congregation would also come to view it the same way.
During the second year, a few days into the second semester I had an email from the financial aid office indicating that that my tuition payment was overdue. When I called my pastor to clear up this oversight, I found out that it had not been a mistake. The congregation had voted to cut support for seminary students from the budget, ending it entirely.
It had been decided that it was just too expensive.
There was no room in the budget for this excess.
Considering the congregation’s own expenses, it just didn’t seem appropriate.
After a short (but terrifying) time, some generous individuals from that congregation stepped forward to help me get through the year. However, from that time forward, this extravagant gift was no longer a practice of the congregation.
The word extravagant literally means to wander outside of reasonable limits.
In every way, Mary’s gift is extravagant.
The perfume is rare and expensive.
The amount is excessive.
The act of wiping Jesus’ feet with her hair is incredibly inappropriate.
Judas’ words, on the surface, are sensible, “why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?”
But instead of agreeing, Jesus tells Judas in so many words to “shut it,” and draws the attention of all at the table to Mary.
She gives without hesitation.
She gives more than is necessary.
She gives with wild abandon.
She gives without regard for all of the world’s shoulds and supposed-tos.
She gives above and beyond the reasonable limits.
And as she gives, Mary reflects the extravagant gift that God had given her in Jesus.
In the contrast between Mary and Judas, it is clear to see which one is the disciple we are to emulate.
And yet. And yet.