The gospel reading for Sunday a week ago was the story of the prodigal son. Luke 15:13 says of the son who took his inheritance while his father was still living: Soon afterward, the younger son gathered everything together and took a trip to a land far away. There, he wasted his wealth through extravagant living.
This past Sunday’s gospel was the story of Mary pouring perfume on the feet of Jesus in John 12:1-8. She gives a gift that costs “a year’s wages” and pours it out on the feet of Jesus, wiping his feet dry with her hair. The perfume was an extravagant gift, given out of her love for Jesus. Watchman Nee, in The Normal Christian Life, says that Mary “wastes” herself for Jesus. Judas does not understand such wastefulness. Do we understand it any better than Judas?
In one case, a young man takes his resources and spends it on himself, living an extravagant life—traveling, partying, seeking his own pleasure and comfort. On the other hand, Mary takes her resources and spends it on Jesus. And not even on something that will last, like a house or even a robe. She spends it on something that, once poured out, cannot be recovered. In one fell swoop, Mary does an extravagant thing. Instead of extravagant living, Mary shows us extravagant giving.
Both the prodigal son and Mary are wasteful, but their motives and the objects of their wastefulness are completely different. The prodigal wants what is “rightfully his” for himself. He indulges his desires, wasting what his father gave him to make himself comfortable. Mary wastes what is hers on Jesus, life and love poured out in that perfume, an unrecoverable gift for the one she loves more than herself. In that act, she binds her life to Jesus. Her desire is to pour herself out for him, a sacrifice that sets up his own sacrifice a few days later.
I cannot look at these two stories without considering my own life. Do I waste my resources on myself, on treasure that doesn’t last, or do I waste my resources on Christ? When I consider that all I have comes from God, why should I not want to pour out all I have on the feet of Jesus? I want to give extravagantly, rather than live extravagantly.