I've long been intrigued by John's account of Jesus and a particular encounter at Bethany.
Jesus and His disciples have journeyed into the town of Bethany, sometime after having raised Lazarus from the dead in this very place. There is a meal planned for Jesus and those with Him, and Martha is serving. John does not offer any explanation for the choice of venue; perhaps Martha's home would not accomodate Jesus and all of his disciples, or perhaps Martha's house was a wreck with some remodeling going on. Whatever the reason, they find themselves eating at the home of a man who multiple gospel accounts indicate is well known as Simon the Leper. Don't get me wrong, being named in the Bible at all is a feat in and of itself; but if one were to make the list, he or she would likely prefer something else tacked on the end. Maybe something along the lines of Simon the Great, Simon the Bold, Simon the Meek; I'm guessing this dude would have even settled for Simon the Sickly. Apparently, however, Simon drew the proverbial short stick and he got stuck - for now two millennia - being known as Simon the Leper. If we pause here, it is not lost on us, just how much Jesus has given up to be in this place at this time. He has left his rightful place in Glory to live a perfect life we could not live, to pay a price we could never afford, and to offer us the eternal life we could not in any way earn. He has humbled himself in extravagant ways - to the extent that he is having a lowly dinner in the humble home of one named Simon the Leper. This trip, and every step in the journey, has cost Him, and cost Him dearly.
As dinner commences, Martha is providing excellent service. Dinner is wonderful, glasses are full, and everyone is happy. This is where the story takes a turn. Mary enters and produces a pint of extremely expensive perfume. She proceeds to, quietly and humbly, pour out this offering on the feet of Jesus. She does not reach for rags, but rather washes Jesus' feet with her hair until she and the entire house are filled with the aroma of her offering. After she has poured out this oil that equates to a year's wages, she is swiftly met with the criticism of at least one of those in attendance: "Whoa, Mary! Do you realize how much good we could have done with the proceeds from the sale of that bottle? An entire year's wages; what a waste!"
Jesus responds to their concerns with a solid rebuke: "Leave her alone! It was intended that she save this perfume for me." You see, God's economy is not man's economy. Jesus reveals in this brief interaction that what He seeks is an offering that costs - one that is extravagant.
It is no small endeavor to invest the time, energy, and resources necessary to serve the church. We all have the opportunity to weekly engage thousands in our community, across multiple campuses and venues, with the Gospel. Does it cost us something? Always. Is our offering extravagant? Sometimes.
How often do we spend not even one moment in private prayer over our service and the chance to share the Good News with our friends, neighbors, and family?
How often do we postpone preparation in favor of lesser pursuits?
How often do we rely on our talent or lean into our own ability to fake our way through a given service?
Again, is our offering an extravagant one?
Let us approach each opportunity before us with the most extravagant gift we can offer. Let us pray fervently, prepare thoroughly, and lean into God and his strength alone to accomplish His work through us. And while we may not give up a year's wages each time we serve, let us be willing to always lay it all down and beg God to use us in whatever small way He can. Let it be said of us that we worship, we serve, and we love, EXTRAVAGANTLY!
- Kevin Hester