Last week was wedding week at our house.
One of our twins married his lovely bride last weekend and I was on wedding cake and cupcake duty. By Tuesday things were kicking into gear. Out-of-town Nana had arrived, flower girl dresses awaited alterations, and my oven was on high demand. At least one of the flower-girls was excited at the prospect of wearing a fluffy dress. The joy of wedding anticipation is apparent on my granddaughter’s face.
Excitement was running a little high.
As for me, I could hardly wait to get the baking started. Still I had to pace myself to assure the butter based frostings would be optimal when served. I’ve never transported large quantities of cupcakes 150 miles before, so the process was a bit daunting. I settled on moving the cupcakes in unfrosted fashion and hauling gallons of frosting with me to decorate on site. The wedding cake traveled in my lap. The whole way. It barely survived my adrenaline crash as I drifted off into catnaps while my chauffeur husband kept shaking me to stay awake. I was prepared for extenuating circumstances, but was still a bit anxious about how it was all going to work out.
At the end of the day, the wedding was beautiful. Preparation paid off.
Now it is Easter week.
Similar to wedding week but different. Preparations are taking on a different perspective. I love Easter week. Even as I prepare for traditions of dinner and baskets for my grandchildren, I also prepare my heart for Easter by spending time in the Gospels.
3 While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. 4 Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? 5 It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly. 6 “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7 The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. 8 She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. 9 Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” 10 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them.
Now I appreciate high end perfume and I’m pretty doggone picky about it. But I’ve never owned perfume this expensive. If I did, it would take a lot for me to pour it out on anyone! During a significant week of Jesus’s life, this lady gave an extraordinarily expensive gift to Jesus in perhaps the worst example of stewardship currently known to man. The disciples, which included a few bean counters, were absolutely indignant. Her actions seemed wasteful. They could think of many more socially responsible uses for the perfume. And she didn’t even eek out the gift in increments. Rather she poured out an entire bottle of perfume in a single application. If she had spilled it, all could have been forgiven. But to pour it out intentionally was unfathomable.
The wasteful act of perfume pouring seems to incite Judas to betray Jesus. In all the gospel accounts, this event directly precedes Judas approaching the chief priests to betray Jesus. Regardless of Satan’s role in Judas’s decision, it appears that Jesus’s defense of extravagant perfume pouring pushed him over the edge.
I have to ask myself.
When have I become judgmental and indignant over someone else’s fiscal irresponsibility?
Has it led Me into Godly thought or behavior?
Yet Jesus defends the woman’s actions. “She did what she could.” She was inadvertently preparing Jesus’s body for death.
The perfume incident is quickly followed by Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,“Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! “Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
These folks gave gifts to Jesus as well. They spread out cloaks and palm branches.
As I think about it, the perfume, cloaks and palm branches share significance.
The value of the perfume was in essence a savings account. A year’s worth. Maybe it strikes you as frivolous narcissistic spending, but in monetary value, it represented security. If this woman fell on hard times, she had a year’s income at her disposal. The value of the perfume protected her from landing in Bethany’s ghetto. The cloaks spread out for Jesus as he entered Jerusalem also represented protection: protection from the dust, from the rain, from the sun. These folks exposed themselves and their inner garments to the dirt of the day as they laid cloaks down for Jesus. Even the palm branches served initially as shade. By cutting down branches, the people sacrificed some level of protection from the elements to scatter palm leaves on the ground for Jesus.
All these gifts jump out at me as my own life unfolds this year. A few months ago, as our church considers moving into a larger facility, I had been reading about the Israelites having their hearts “stirred” to give over and above their tithes to fund the new tabernacle. The people gave until Moses had to tell them to quit. When does that ever happen? As God stirred our hearts, my husband and I recently decided to liquidate our retirement account once again and give it to God, over and above our tithe. It is not lost on me that the lengthy process was completed during this Passion Week before Easter.
Our retirement account represents a similar sort of protection for the dark days ahead. As we started the process of liquidating our account, bean counters shook their heads at us in disbelief and concern.
Listen, I like to count beans with the best of you, but when God stirs my heart to give or move, I have learned the joy of obedience.
Ironically, this retirement account originates from a decade of University teaching and was only available because I am no longer teaching there. I had fully intended to land a tenure track position at the University to fund my husband’s preaching habit. In my heart, I felt more secure (oddly enough) with a state funded salary rather than depending on God to meet my needs. I knew this was misplaced trust but it nagged me nonetheless. And God called my bluff this fall by inviting me to leave academia. And I truly struggled with obedience. In my field of study, a gap in my teaching record gives my degree the shelf life of a French fry. I recognize there is no return. Oddly enough, I now wonder if that decade of teaching was really all in preparation for this Easter, for this gift. With it, I give up the protection is represents in monetary value and steady employment. I give it up in trust.
You know, it is tempting to make giving decisions based on how much we hold in total assets. Bible scholars often assume a woman with a year’s worth of salary tied up in a single bottle of perfume must have been extraordinarily wealthy and therefore her gift served as a small percentage of her net worth. She could “afford” to give it. But Jesus also praised the widow who gave all she had.
As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. 2 He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. 3 “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 4 All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
Both of these women “did what she could.”
As Easter approaches I want to do what I can. I want to honor God with my gift. As leaders in a church, this is not a post to boast. But like David who led the charge with personal sacrifice from his own coffers to build the temple, leaders should be the first to sacrifice.
We give in preparation.
We give in anticipation of God’s work in this community.
We give in thankfulness of the forgiveness won for us on the cross.