During Holy Week the Gospel readings for the day are taken from John’s Gospel, and one of those is always the story of Mary (Martha’s sister) anointing Jesus’ feet. She shows her great thanks and appreciation that Jesus has raised her brother Lazarus from the dead by taking a pound of pure costly nard (the fragrance filling the room) and anoints Jesus’ feet and dries them with her hair. It is an act of extravagant thankfulness and generosity. It was extravagance that caused offence. It’s hard to know how much the nard would cost in today’s terms, but a days’ wages is 1 denarii – so 300 denarii is 300 day’s wages. So we’re looking at somewhere near an average salary for the year. In each of the Gospel accounts a different set of people are outraged at the extravagance (in John’s it’s Judas who says the perfume should have been sold and the money given to the poor. But Jesus is not. He welcomes it – and accepts the spirit in which it was given.
I had my own encounter with extravagance this week - I asked a member of our congregation if she could get some greenery for our Garden of Gethsemane – I was expecting a few bunches. Instead she turned up with a van full of trees and shrubs. You can see the extravagant garden that she made in the Lady Chapel.
It reminds me of some of the extravagant actions of God in the Bible. Jesus started his ministry with a sign of extravagance – he turned large jugs of water in to wine at the Wedding of Cana – a sign that God had saved the best to the last.
How many times should I forgive someone says Peter to Jesus, up to 7? Thinking that already was generous – 77 times comes Jesus’ reply. Forgiveness is something that you can’t ration.
Then there is the feeding of the 5,000 with the loaves and fishes, from which 12 baskets of food left over. A sign that tells us that the food which comes down from heaven does not run out.
Then the miraculous catch of fish – a resurrection story – in which Jesus tells the disciples to cast their nets the other side, and they draw in so many fish that the nets start to break.
We should be getting the point by now – the kingdom of heaven is a place where love and forgiveness is not metered out according to our worthiness. There isn’t a limited amount of what God’s got to give – God’s love is generous and over-flowing, extravagant and likely to cause offence.
It’s linked to the offence of the Cross – God literally pours himself out for us in love – and through this great act of self-sacrifice he feeds his people for ever – through his flesh and his blood. The last act of crazy extravagance – of overflowing, abundant generosity – to give himself to us in this way.
You can’t manufacture abundant generosity – or extravagant thanksgiving- it’s not something a preacher can draw from her people. It comes from the abundance of the heart – Mary gave to Jesus in love and gratitude for what he had done – she had to respond in the way that she did – it came from deep inside her. The preacher’s role is simply to remind you that you are invited to encounter anew the Risen Lord : - the Lord of the Bible who comes to each of us individually – standing with us as a reminder that we are invited into a kingdom where the normal rules of 1 + 1 do not apply. God does maths by breaking the rule book – of throwing away the calculator and reminding us we cannot place a price on redemption, resurrection or eternal life. Our extravagance depends on how deeply we realise what Jesus has really done for us.