Stingy Story, Lavish Love
I met Lynn when I was a young pastor. She organized the acolytes at church, was about 20 older than me. She lived with MS, but managed her home, the family finances, and her husband, Who, in contrast to Lynn, wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer.
They both had to retire early and made ends meet on their disability checks.
In those days, I looked at Lynn as a person who took up a lot of time.
There was some truth that assessment: There was no quick conversation with Lynn.
Somehow drama followed her around, whether it was the conflicted relationship with her daughter Or trying to get her husband to follow through on basic life skills
Or struggling to make ends meet. I don’t like to admit it, but there was a part of me that wanted to head in the other direction when I saw Lynn. I felt I had limited resources, and I needed to preserve my time and energy for other aspects of ministry It seemed there wasn’t quite enough of me to go around already in this large parish. I met and prayed with Lynn, and I also referred her to a counsellor who worked on a sliding scale.
From the outside, it was good ministry practice: I wasn’t a trained counsellor, and Lynn really benefitted from that care. But on the inside, I knew I made the referral in part because of a certain stinginess within me, a willingness to give only so much, and nothing more.
That’s where I connect with Judas in this story.
I am not a thief, as he is portrayed here in John--
but I am aware that stinginess and stealing come from the same place:
a kind of selfishness that puts one’s own wants and needs before everyone else’s at all cost. Judas stole from their common funds to line his own pocket
I conserved my care and energy, keeping it for myself. What is the price of such stinginess? Can love actually be rationed?
Is it really love if you are counting the cost?
Years went by, and I left my role as pastor to be a full time mom.
I got word that Lynn had taken a turn for the worse; her time to live was short.
I wanted to visit her, to bring her something that would brighten her day.
I remembered that Lynn used to give Christmas gifts, despite her modest income.
She gave little trial sized potions and lotions from Avon.
I decided that I would bring Lynn some fancy smelling lotion for her to enjoy.
And because we had so often prayed together, I thought I would offer to place some of the lotion on her hands, Anointing her as a part of healing prayer.
The next day both kids were in school, I headed over to Lynn’s.
She was happy to see me, and accepted the healing prayer and lotion.
I prayed for God’s presence and thanked God for her life as I smoothed the lotion into her skin. We reminisced, laughed, shared about our families.
It wasn’t draining at all, and instead, I felt lighter as I left her house.
Driving home, I remembered Mary of Bethany.
How she had anointed Jesus with fragrant oil,
How she had been saving that perfume for his burial someday
But in a prescient moment, had decided not to hold it back
and poured the perfume all over Jesus’ feet
In a bold and intimate display, poured out her love for Jesus.
She did not hold back. Wanted to share it with him, not wait til he was dead
The oil that Mary used was nard, an essential plant that comes only from the Himalayas.
It was worth a year’s wages. It is a symbol of extravagant love, lavishly spent.
No wonder Judas complained—when Matthew tells the story, all the disciples complain at the waste. It makes me think back to last week’s gospel lesson,
and Pastor Brian’s challenging preaching about the prodigal son.
The younger son left home and squandered his inheritance,
and yet the father forgave him without an apology.
Where is the repentance? Where is the punishment? We wanted to know.
All that forgiveness wasted on a good for nothing son.
But Pastor Brian held fast to the import of the parable, proclaiming that
God’s forgiveness and love are not based on human actions or worthiness, but on God’s free choice.
The father doesn’t count the cost when he forgives his son—
there is no accounting of wrongs or talk about justice
instead there is another outpouring of love—an embrace, a welcome home, and an elaborate celebration.
And the stingy one? That’s the older brother who can’t see good news in his lost brother coming home.
He doesn’t even join in the party.
Honestly, sometimes we withhold love out not out of selfishness, but out of hurt, or righteous anger
We hold back because we don’t want to put ourselves out there one more time
Or to enable destructive behavior.
In the end, it is we who lose out when our hearts are a few sizes too small.
The human heart longs for healing, to love and be loved, with no strings attached.
Fortunately for us, this is the kind of love with which already God loves us: unmerited, undeserved, as we are.
Mary is the model of what this love looks like, for in kneeling at Jesus feet and pouring it out She prefigures his own kneeling at the feet of his disciples,
saying “I give you a new commandment, that you should love one another.”
Brothers and sisters, love is not so much a feeling, as it is a choice:
The choice to pour ourselves out fully, without regard to propriety, prudence,
without any expectation of anything in return.
Today we have the opportunity to examine our motives, open our hearts to God
and perhaps, as I did, to repent of our small hearted ways.
And while we can’t manufacture love by our moral muscle,
We can tap into God’s limitless supply.
Given that we have been welcomed into God’s embrace without condition
Given that Jesus poured out his life for us
Let us pray for the grace to grow beyond our stinginess
To be more like Mary and less like Judas
And pour out our love and our lives for others.