This is Holy Week, when Christians remember the events leading up to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. My Esteemed Reverend Moses Butcher preached from Mark 14 about what he called The Beautiful Waste--the woman who broke a valuable alabaster jar and poured the rare and costly ointment over Jesus.
The alabaster jar, Rev. Moses said, was probably a family heirloom; possibly the most expensive thing the woman owned. It was her family's financial security, worth almost a year's wages: if they fell on hard times, they could sell the jar and live off the proceeds until their circumstances improved.
The alabaster jar did not have a resealable flip-top; the jar had to be broken, destroyed, in order to pour the perfume. The ointment itself was rare and powerfully fragrant. Imagine the ointment running down his clothing, and making sweet-smelling puddles in the dirt floor.
This woman--Mark doesn't name her, but John says it was Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus--intentionally broke and poured out her most valuable possession without regret or hesitation. She gave no thought to what the onlookers might think of her or her action. The intent of her heart, Jesus discerned, was to do a beautiful thing to honor him.
When the dinner guests criticized Mary for her wasteful extravagance ("the perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor!"), Jesus rebuked them. His words may seem uncompassionate ("the poor you will always have with you") and self-promoting ("you will not always have me")--but Jesus merely reminded them who he was--the divine, long-awaited Messiah (Mark 8:29). He pointed out that Mary had her priorities in the proper order: First Jesus, then everything else, including her own wealth and security, her reputation, and the important social concern of caring for the poor.
Mary's gesture was extravagant and beautiful. She probably didn't realize the significance of her act--that it symbolized the annointing of Jesus' body for burial--but she did what she was able to do, and gave what she was able to give.
I want to have the kind of faith that is extravagant and beautiful. I want to offer up my treasure and my security, so that I can find them again in Jesus. This Holy Week, to tell the truth, I feel far apart from God and from grace. There's nothing extravagant or beautiful about my faith at the moment.
Luckily, or rather, providentially, my feelings are not a factor when it comes to Jesus. I know who and what I am. I know how unfaithful I am, how self-centered, angry, idolatrous. But I also know I can lay the ugliness of my sin at the foot of the cross, where the ransom was paid; I know I can believe this crazy, scandalous story because of the empty tomb.
This is Holy Week. Welcome to the infamy of the cross, and the hope of the resurrection.