Lent 5 ~ Unexpected and Extravagant Acts of Love

On March 16, 2016 by saintlukesgresham

Deacon Laurel Hart

What was the very best gift you’ve ever received? Was the gift a material item? Or was the gift the fulfillment of a wish or desire? How surprised were you? Did you expect to receive this gift? Or was it a total surprise? For me one of the best gifts – best surprise I ever received was the Christmas when I was thirteen years old. I ask for one of those new small transistor radios and my mother told me that it wouldn’t be possible – those radios were too expensive for the family’s Christmas gift budget. I was rendered speechless when I open my gifts on Christmas Eve and found the coveted item wrapped up in a shoe box.

Receiving a wonderful gift can also have it burdens and responsibilities. This parish received a totally unexpected gift with a bequest from the will of Jack Malcom. I’ve been a witness to the many serious and heartfelt discussions as the vestry wrestled with the responsibility of making decision about these funds. Have you ever received gift that led to stress or worry around how to deal with the gift? Did you handle this concern alone or reach out for help? Did you want to refuse the gift? Or did you actually refuse the gift because of strings which might have been attached to it?

Today gospel reading is also a story about the giving and receiving of gifts. The chapter (chapter 11) which precedes this one contains the story of the raising of Lazarus from death. The gift of healing by Jesus restored his life but also gave the brother back to his sisters Martha and Mary. Now they are at home together and Jesus and others guests have been invited to a celebration dinner. During this dinner, Mary anoints Jesus feet as an extravagant gesture and gift of uninhibited love. We heard that the perfume which she used was called nard. This ointment was prepared from a plant called spikenard which grows in the Himalayan regions now known as Bhutan and Nepal. The root and lower part of the stems or rehomes are fragrant. The plant is dried and crushed to make the perfume. The dried parts of this plant would have been imported to the Middle East and would have been very expensive – worth nearly a year’s wages for the common working person of that day. Many describe this perfume as having a beautiful aroma – the scent is naturally warm, sweet, and spicy, with musky overtones. Likely it was infused in some type of oil and maybe other sweet smelling spices would have been added to the infusion. The perfume of nard is said to be a mood elevator and enhancer that calms anxiety and heals emotional and psychological trauma and pain. This gift applied with the gentle touch of human hands and known for calming, soothing and mood elevating qualities might have helped Jesus as he prepare himself spiritually for his upcoming ordeal on the cross. Jesus affirms Mary and her generous gift by telling Judas to leave her alone. She is an example of how to give a gift with love, not by her words– but by her actions of pouring out love on another human being using a soft touch. He willingly receives this gift – acknowledging that his remaining time with his disciples is passing fast. To be the person who is the recipient of a gift is an uncomfortable place for many people. We’ve all experienced someone trying to give us a compliment, which in our own insecurity and discomfort; is thrown off with a quick phrase. Someone says “that’s a lovely dress, shirt, etc.” and we reply “ oh, it’s just an old rag I found in my closet”. Someone says “wow that was a great golf shot or a fast pitch” and we say “oh, it was just a luck shot.” But Jesus demonstrates a better response, by being open to receiving love from another person. He accepts the gift in what appears to be a quiet, gracious manner toward Mary. He doesn’t diminish the gift by diminishing himself – by saying or acting unworthy of the offering. This gospel is yet another reminder that God’s love is a gift available to all people and we are worthy to receive it without any reservations.

This story in John’s gospel is at the beginning of events which culminate in the death of Jesus on the cross. We are fast approaching several days of wonderful services and beautiful liturgies in our yearly remembrance of these events.

So I challenge you to think about what can you do to be a reflection of the love of Jesus in the final days of Lent? What unexpected and extravagant act of love can you perform in the coming days toward family, friends or even strangers? But even more importantly – how can you open yourself up to receive unexpected gifts from others?

Jesus’ death is his own gesture of love – it demonstrates to us the enormous love of God for all his people. Jesus pours out his life for the forgiveness of human sin – my sin – your sin. This is a gesture so vast that it will have cosmic repercussions until the end of time. Amen.

Image: Washing His Feet by Wayne Forte

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