John 12: 1-11
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 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. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) 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.” When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.
Mary buys a pound of costly perfume even though there are the mouths of poor people to feed. But it’s not just the poor is it? There are Jesus and his disciples (including Mary and Martha) to feed. Yet despite the poor, and the monthly bills of running Jesus’ ministry, Mary chooses to splurge on a seemingly needless item: expensive perfume. She anoints Jesus’ feet before his death, and later, his body after death. Has anything really changed in the scheme of things after Mary does this? The dead are still dead, the poor are still poor, and the bills are still unpaid. So, why do it?
Because anyone who has ever lived in the shadow of death, or depression, or stress, knows the power of an indulgent purchase when everything else in one’s life feels out of her control.
I’m not referring here to a shopping spree which leaves one with bags full of valueless junk. Mary didn’t head down to the local market in a fit of grief and make an impulsive purchase of perfume, which remained unopened on her night stand. Mary buys the perfume because she knows the power of anointing Jesus with it. She knows this act of love is exactly what he needs in his grief and fear. And then, after Jesus’ death, I imagine Mary used it to anoint herself. Mary knows this act of self-love is exactly what she needs in her grief and fear. Maybe Mary used it in a bath after a day of mourning at Jesus’ tomb. Or later, after a long day of hosting disciples, soaking her feet in her blessed oil.
The truly indulgent purchases, the ones that are most likely to fill us with life and hope, are precisely the ones we deny ourselves. Maybe it’s a set of oil paints or a dance class or a month of massages for our aching bodies. Then enters the Judas-like voice in our minds, “Why did you waste money on that?” When what we need most is a visit to the local yarn shop, or an electric bass we’ve dreamed of for decades, we shut ourselves down with shame and guilt. We deny ourselves the gift of something truly magnificent because there are bills to pay or other people with greater needs than ours.
This past December I saw an advertisement for an online writing class designed for individuals wanting to write a memoir. Immediately I felt a burning desire to sign up. But the class was several hundred dollars. It’s the most money I’ve spent on myself since my college and seminary loans. What if it proved to be a total waste? All that money, which could have gone to car repairs or vet bills or charity, flushed down the drain. And how could I know if I was a writer? I’d never written anything but sermons and church newsletters. A book? Really? But I did it anyway, sensing the class was a costly gift I should give myself. Now, nearly ten weeks later, I am writing my memoir. The value of the writing class was far greater than anything I could have imagined. It not only gave me a book, it’s given me my identity as a writer.
Please do not deny yourself some glorious item or experience which is bound to fill your spirit with new life. You cannot yet know the blessings in abundance you will receive from it.
What thing or experience do you desire but feel is too indulgent?
Now, go out and buy it and watch the magic unfold.