John 12. 1-8: “Gospel Economics”
In the assemblies this week the children have been thinking about their favourite smells. These included flowers, freshly mown grass and one of my favourites freshly baked bread.
I have least favourite smells: a few weeks ago, in the Rectory I was smelling in a room and thought what is that? The evidence was a pigeon left in a corner of the room and it was a present from Jack the cat.
Interestingly there are references to the sense of smell in days story as we are told “the house was filled with the fragrance of her perfume.” This takes place in the home of Lazarus, Martha and Mary just six days before Good Friday. This was in fact a celebration dinner for Lazarus who had been raised from the dead.
The importance of smell is stressed in that the whole house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume that Mary pours on Jesus’ feet and this emphasis is deliberate as another smell concerned the family a few chapters earlier.
This was the worry of removing the stone from the grave of Lazarus as he had been dead for four days.
That is not a good smell, but now there is a beautiful fragrance.
Mary pours the perfume onto the feet of Jesus in an act of extravagant thankfulness and love.
Her brother, who she believed dead and gone, has been restored.
How can you put a price on something like that?
Only an action which might seem completely over the top can do Jesus justice for who he is and what he has done.
We are told that Judas objects strongly to what he sees as a complete waste of money. The focus here reminds us that what Mary is doing is extravagant. If you are into careful budgets this will not make sense. But we are now looking at what can be called Gospel economics.
The Gospel stories have a number of examples of what this means.
In Jesus’ parables it makes sense that a woman will tear apart her house just to find one missing coin. The potential damage to the house makes this an unwise course of action.
A man will sell everything he has to buy a field that contains a precious pearl that is buried in a field.
It seems very risky to put all your assets into one thing, better you might think to spread your investments.
A shepherd to leave 99 of his flock to find the one sheep that is lost. What would he do if something happened to the 99?
There is the story of the good Samaritan who not only helps the wounded man, but puts him on his donkey and then pays for accommodation and medical expenses and promises to cover any additional expenses.
This is a commitment to a stranger.
As we heard last week, a father lays out an expensive party for a younger son who has just squandered half his wealth.
In the parables Jesus sometimes asks which of you would not act in a similar way?
The answer is that none of us most likely would not behave in this unseemly, reckless, and extravagant way.
These are not stories about us. These are God’s stories—God the searching shepherd, the careless farmer, the undiscerning fisherman, the reckless woman, the extravagant father, the prodigal Samaritan. Jesus thus reveals a God who is extravagant. Abundance is in the nature of this God
We are living in an age of austerity and we are encouraged to budget and to match what is coming in with what goes out.
In Gospel economics different rules seem to apply.
Jesus told about a farmer who sows too much seed. Most of the seed was wasted, falling on the wrong sort of soil. But when you are sowing good seed in bad soil, well, sometimes you have to overdo it a bit. The seed that did manage to germinate and take root and produced, said Jesus, abundant harvest.
Or in John 2: The wine gives out at a party after a wedding, and what does Jesus do? He turns water to wine! Not just some water into a bit of wine. He makes, according to John's estimate, about 180 gallons of the best tasting wine they ever had.
In the feeding miracles not only are 5000 fed in the wilderness, but there is food left over at the end. Rather than scarcity, there is more than enough for everyone.
We are also told that when one sinner repents heaven throws a party.
The parables and teachings of Jesus are full of parties and banquets and if you had a bill for the catering it would be expensive. Organising a party is expensive or can be, and it would seem that when it comes to parties in heaven, God is extravagant.
Therefore, Mary spends a huge sum of money, to show her thankfulness and love for Jesus as she is overcome with gratitude. It is an act of love and in Gospel economics, love is a renewable resource. In giving you receive, when it comes to love.
There is something else going on in this story. Mary is preparing Jesus for his burial. Bodies were anointed with spices and perfume and Mary, just six days before Good Friday, seems to understand what is to come.
On Good Friday, Gospel economics is most evident. It is here that God’s love is so extravagantly abundant that it embraces all.
Sensible economics says you can’t spend what you don’t have, but fortunately Gospel economics is not about us, it is about God.