The word “extravagant” means “unrestrained” or “recklessly wasteful.” I think those terms adequately describe the love of a woman in the Bible who, out of deep gratefulness, broke an expensive bottle of fragrance and poured it over Jesus’ head in a dramatic display of her love and devotion to Him.
Those who were present started scolding her for her wastefulness, saying she could have sold it and given the money to the poor. To them this seemed a far better use of something so valuable.
Jesus’ response to them is priceless. You would think He would have agreed there were better uses for something so valuable. Instead, He told them to leave her alone, and praised her for her extravagant display of affection to Him.
I love this story for two reasons. One, Jesus immediately shot down the self-righteous judgment of those who thought they knew what this woman should have done with the fragrance. Two, He praised her extravagance – senseless as it seemed!
I’m slowly learning to ignore the “shoulds” from others as God shows me over and over to follow Him and not worry what others think. We Christians love to have measuring sticks to measure each other with, and then use those very measuring sticks to beat each other up – figuratively, of course. I’ve purposely chosen to lay aside those measuring sticks – both the ones I’m tempted to judge others with, and the ones others use to judge me.
These measuring sticks aren’t something new. So many times in Jesus’ day the religious leaders tried to impose “shoulds” on others, and time after time Jesus rebuked them. He had only two “shoulds”: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength; and, love your neighbor as yourself.
This woman was certainly loving God with all her being – including using an expensive item she owned to express that love.
I know of a woman who spent her entire adult life as a missionary nurse in Nepal. She traveled from village to village teaching women how to prepare nutritious meals for their families, and telling them how much God loved them. In the over 35 years she served there, the Christian church grew significantly.
But this didn’t all just happen. When she was a young woman she made a difficult decision. She knew without a doubt God was calling her to be a missionary. But when she discovered her boyfriend had no intention of going into mission work, she was presented with a tough choice: marry him and live the young woman’s dream of a husband and family, or give him up – and the possibility of marriage and children – to follow God’s call on her life.
She chose the latter. She broke her precious bottle of perfume – the hopes and dreams of having a family – and poured it out for the Lord in an extravagant offering of devotion to Him. Her sacrifice probably appeared foolish to some. But her choice brought many into Christ’s Kingdom and brought much honor to Him, who also forfeited having a spouse and family to fulfill God’s purpose for Him.
There are many other ways to be extravagant in our love for Jesus, including serving God with a spouse and raising children to serve Him if that’s what He calls you to. Each of us has our own precious bottle of fragrance, perhaps more than one. Will we use it for our own enjoyment and self-gratification? Will we follow others’ opinions of what we should do with it? Or will we sacrificially offer it back to God in whatever way He asks us to, as an extravagant display of our love and devotion to Him?