When something is lavish and extravagant, do you ever find it offensive? If you see an ornate, lavish, rich palace that shows signs that nothing was spared in its building and the décor, and it is surrounded by poverty, some might find that offensive. Jesus' disciples were no different.
In John 12, Mary comes in with some very costly imported perfume and douses the feet of Jesus with it. She could have just washed his feet with plain water, but perfumed them instead. Judas criticized here. That perfume could have been sold for 300 denarii and the money given to the poor! Even though his motivation was suspect, what he said was true. In the other Gospel accounts, the other disciples agree. To get a sense of how much Mary "wasted," lets convert this to our currency. A denarius was a day's wage for a laborer. With our minimum wage, a day's earnings would be $52.40 a day, and $15,720 for 300 days! Where did Mary get that amount of imported perfume? How would Jesus, who is also concerned about the poor, react to such a lavish expression of devotion to himself? There are so many poor, so much ministry to be done, and this perfume would go a long way in funding it. But Jesus did not criticize Mary's actions, he approved of it!
Is there a timeless principle in this that is applicable for today? In the building of the tabernacle, only the work of master craftsman, and only the finest materials would do. The same was true for the temple. It gleamed of gold. Why all this extravagance? Were there no poor people in Jerusalem? No. Jerusalem, like any other city had its share of poor people, and God's laws made provisions for them. This was about honoring God with what was fitting for his holiness. This is why David desired to build God a temple that was better than a tent, and more glorious that his own palace. God approved, David had spoken well.
So, what should be our reaction when it comes to carpet, decorations, stained glass, brass furnishings, etc…? We might think, "Our Lord does not want us to be wasteful." This is true, but does that mean we always get by with what is cheapest, or do we do what is fitting for his holiness? Is austerity and cheapness always what is pleasing to God, or can lavishness and generosity be pleasing to God? Are we oriented to "getting by" or to "abundance" when it comes to serving God with our resources, time, abilities, and ourselves? Whether it is a building project, an outreach project, or something else, what would be fitting for the glory of God?
Here are some concluding questions for reflection. In what ways is Mary an example? What are some ways I can express devotion to my Lord in a way that is fitting? What are some ways that we as a body can express our devotion to God in a way that is fitting? Make a list. What can I be generous and lavish with that will bring honor to God?