Love Is A Spendthrift
Paul Sherer wrote: “Love is a spendthrift; it leaves its arithmetic at home. It is always ‘in the red.’ And God is Love.” The truth of these words is clearly revealed in this story from John 12.
Jesus had gone out to Bethany, a suburb of Jerusalem, for a time of rest. There was just too much pressure in Jerusalem to stay there for very long at a time. The groups who stood in opposition to Jesus were beginning to forge a conspiracy which would end in the crucifixion. Not only that, but the city was literally jammed with people. It was the Season of Passover and pilgrims had flocked into Jerusalem from all over the Middle Eastern World. And so, because of the press of politics and the press of the people, Jesus went apart to Bethany in order to “get away from it all” for a while.
We find Him at a dinner party with friends in the Bethany home of Simon the Leper. We know practically nothing about Simon, except that he was probably a man whom Jesus had healed. It may even have been that Simon hosted their dinner party in Jesus’ honor as an expression of his gratitude to the Master. We do not know for sure. But this we do know: Jesus’ closest friends were with Him there in Bethany. His disciples were there—all of them, or at least several of them. Martha was there—as always busy and bustling about. Lazarus was there—quite the center of attention now that he had been raised from the dead. And Mary was there—Mary, who would at that meal do something which the Church still remembers with sweetness and with love.
I find it interesting to see Jesus gathered there with those simple people He loved. I always like to see the Lord, with simple people—it gives me hope that folks like us might be able to spend time with Him. But today, I want us to focus our attention not on all those who were present, but on just three of them: a devoted disciple, a carping critic, and a loving Lord.
The devoted disciple, of course, is Mary.
Something happened there at the table—we do not know exactly what—but perhaps Jesus uttered some word, some perfect pearl of truth, and Mary apparently decided that simply nodding in agreement or voicing a word of praise was just not good enough. So she got up from the table and took a box of very precious ointment. It was more than likely made from the oil of the pistachio nut, very costly and very fragrant. She smashed the box and anointed Jesus’ feet with oil.
Notice this, please. She smashed the box. She didn’t draw out a carefully measured teaspoonsful of affection. She just broke the box and poured all of the oil on Jesus’ feet. It was an act of uninhibited devotion. It was an act of spendthrift love. She poured it all out. No matter the cost, she poured it out.
Now, it is clear from the story that Mary wasn’t thinking of herself at that moment. She was not giving for selfish reasons. She was not doing something nice for Jesus in order to get something in return. She wasn’t thinking of herself at all. The proof is in the fact that we are told that Mary let down her hair to wipe the oil on Jesus’ feet. Understand, please, that in those days, for a woman to appear in public with her hair unbound was to advertise immorality. Only the women of the streets went about with their hair unbound. Have you ever seen a young couple walking down the street, holding hands, so totally wrapped up in each other that they are absolutely oblivious to everything and everyone else? That’s the way Mary was at this moment —so anxious to show her love that she forgot herself and all those who were watching. She was a completely devoted disciple. She didn’t hold anything back. She poured out her love for Jesus Christ. It was a wild, crazy, foolish thing to do—this act of spendthrift love!
It was that kind of spendthrift love that led Father Damian to expose himself to leprosy in order to minister to lepers. It led Vincent de Paul to sell himself into slavery so that he could minister to slaves. It led Albert Schweitzer to bury himself in the jungles of Central Africa. That kind of spendthrift love drove Bonhoeffer and Niemoller and ten thousand others to protest the Nazi slaughter and in so doing to bring upon themselves the horrors of the concentration camps. That kind of spendthrift love has compelled untold numbers of men and women to tread the lonely and uncertain path to the mission field. What preposterous, fantastic, apparently foolish things people do for Jesus!
But I want to tell you something—the world needs more of that kind of foolishness today—Christian men and women, motivated by nothing other than a crazy, spendthrift love for Jesus Christ, who are willing to stand up in front of wherever they happen to be and say: “This is what Jesus Christ has to say to the world and I’ll say it no matter what the price. This is what Jesus Christ wants me to do with my life, and I’ll do it whatever the cost.”
Of course, it always does cost. We see this in the story, in the second person. I want us to consider—the carping critic.
The carping critic, of course, is Judas.
There at the dinner party in Bethany, as soon as Mary entered into her act of spendthrift love, Judas said (and if you listen closely you can almost hear the whine in his voice): “Lord, this is foolish. The woman has gone mad. This perfume was worth a whole year’s wages. Couldn’t it have been sold and the money given to the poor?”
Now realize, please, that Judas had not been giving anything to the poor. Judas had demonstrated no spendthrift love, no generous giving, no significant expression of faith in his life. So I wonder what made him say what he said? Could it have been that Mary’s act of generosity shamed his own greed, his own indifference toward Jesus? Was that it? Do you know what Alcibiader said to Socrates on one occasion? “Socrates, I hate you because when I am with you, I discover what I really am.” Was that Judas’ problem? Was it that Mary’s act of love so clearly revealed his own smallness of heart that he couldn’t deny it, and so in a pathetic effort to defend himself, he criticized her spendthrift loving? Was it that he was just too small a man to be able to understand this big an act of loving discipleship?
I think here of that fellow who went to work in a Volkswagen factory. The boss showed him all around the plant and then took him to the place where he would be working on the assembly line. The boss then said: “That’s the job you are to do. But I want to warn you of something. We are building Volkswagens here, so if I ever catch you thinking big, I’ll fire you!” We laugh at that; but as I look at the Church today, it seems to me that it is crowded with people who are scared to death to think big.
The Church has more than its share of carping critics like Judas. You take some stand for the faith—and they say: Trouble with you is that you’re too rigid, too narrow—there’s too much fire and brimstone in your faith.” Or in an act of love you spend yourself for someone whose conduct is altogether unacceptable and they say: “Don’t you have any standards? Have you lost your feeble mind?” Or you enter into a time of private devotion and meditation—and they say: “What are you doing, practicing to become a monk?” Or you say publicly what you believe, announce it for all to hear—and they say: “You’re always blowing your horn about your religion.” People who say things like that are the same people who complain that the service is too long or too short, the music is too loud or too soft, the church is too liberal or too conservative. There’s always something. Oh yes, the church has plenty of carping critics like Judas.
That’s why I have always found it helpful to remember that once Dwight L. Moody was being attacked by a man who took exception to Moody’s evangelistic methods. When the tongue-lashing was done, Moody said to the man: “Well, sir, I guess it comes down to this: I like more what I am doing than what you are not doing.” I think that’s exactly what Jesus said to Judas. For remember, there were three people in this incident. There was the devoted disciple, Mary, and there was the carping critic, Judas.
The third person was Jesus, the loving Lord.
As we read this story it is quite clear that this act of Mary’s meant a lot to Jesus. He was just six days from His cross. The weight of a whole world’s sin was settling upon His shoulders. And Mary’s act of spendthrift love was going to shine like a star through all the darkness that was abroad. So Jesus said to Judas: “Judas, I like what Mary is doing more than I like what you are not doing.”
You see, Jesus knew the power of unrestrained, spendthrift love. In His own life, He pitted that kind of love against political power, against earthly authority, against disease, against sin, against all the forces of evil in the world. He wasn’t very careful about choosing His friends. He never allied Himself with any special interest or political action groups. He broke one petty rule after another. So they tried to break Him. They mocked Him. They sneered at Him. They hated Him. Finally, they tried to rid themselves of Him. And what happened? Well, instead of being a dead Christ crossed-off the world, He became a living, loving Christ turned loose in the world. He set to work breaking down the walls people build to keep love out. He didn’t always win. He still doesn’t. Given God’s gift of free will in the world that would be impossible. But every once in a while, He manages to unlock the door to someone’s heart. Every once in a while He entices someone out into Kingdom-living and Kingdom-loving in our world—someone where coercion would never have won. And He’s doing that in our world today.
Take the case of Mike Warnke. He was a Satanist, part of an occult group at a California university. On one occasion he and several other members of his satanic coven kidnapped a young coed on that campus. They beat her, used her in their hideous rituals, and left her for dead. But she didn’t die. Some weeks later, Warnke was walking across that campus. The girl to whom he had done such terrible things saw him and walked over to him. She said: “I know you.” He quickly turned and walked away. She followed him. He walked faster. Still she followed. When it was obvious to him that she was not going to stop following him, he turned and cried out: “What do you want with me?” She replied: “I just wanted to tell you that Jesus loves me, and because He loves me, I can love you.” Spendthrift love! And with that kind of love she won him. That’s how we know what happened. Mike Warnke, now a disciple of Jesus Christ, tells the story himself. That’s the power of spendthrift, redeeming love—the love of Jesus Christ!
That’s where our story ends. Except one little sentence that lays hold of my heart. It says here in John 12 that the whole house was filled with the sweet fragrance of that precious ointment. I would take that a step further to say that the whole history of the Church, twenty centuries of believing Christians—the whole history of the Church has been sweetened by the redolent fragrance of Mary’s act of spendthrift love. For what she did for Jesus one day at dinner forever calls us to live with the greatest love and the deepest commitment, at whatever the cost, no matter how foolish it may seem to some, and to do it all for the sake of Jesus.
Albert Schweitzer fell exhausted into a chair one night at his jungle hospital in Lambarene and he thought: “I must be some kind of idiot to so spend myself ministering to these savages.” Then Joseph, his big, black orderly, said to him. “You is an idiot on earth, but not in heaven.
You want that in King James English? Try this. Paul in First Corinthians 4:10, “We are to be fools for Christ’s sake.”