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Divine Extravagance


An extravagance is something that your spirit thinks is a necessity." ~ Bernard Williams

We begin Holy Week with something of an ancient oracle if you will, a prophecy authored by Isaiah (42:1-7) wherein we find the Israelites in exile due to their perpetual infidelity. God has allowed the desecration and subsequent destruction of his own Holy City of Jerusalem, including the loss of the Arc of the Covenant, God’s very presence on earth. With great remorse we find the Israelites in deep lamentation over the loss of their land. Yet Isaiah arrives on this particular day with a message of hope. Despite the Israelites indiscretions, their desire to worship idols and even elevate themselves to god-like status ~ much like many do today ~ God’s love for his people is extravagant; He would give to them that which is most dear to him, he whom he loved beyond measure.

Isaiah tells us that this great Messiah, the one within whom God has “placed his spirit“ (42:1) will be first and foremost a servant, humility and justice his calling card. Furthermore, just as Jesus arrived in Jerusalem in yesterday’s Palm Sunday Passage riding a colt (Mark 11:1-10), choosing not to dramatically burst onto the scene perched high upon an unbridled stallion as would a conquering king,

Isaiah foreshadows a Savior unlike any other, “not crying out, not shouting, not making his voice heard in the street. A bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench.” This was of course a radical departure from anything the Israelites, or anyone else for that matter, had ever seen from a ruler or king.

As we do every year on the Monday of Holy Week, today’s Gospel (John 12:1-11) allows us to revisit Mary of Bethany as she lavishly anoints the feet of Jesus with oil made from genuine aromatic nard, oil which scripture tells us was worth 300 days wages. In doing so she anoints Jesus in advance of his pending crucifixion, death and burial. It was a remarkably lavish act, one which drew the ire of Judas Iscariot among many others in attendance

In order to fully understand the magnitude of Mary’s largesse, imagine taking 82% of your annual salary, whatever you may earn, and donating it all at once to your local parish, food bank, or battered woman’s shelter. Noted science fiction author and magazine editor Alfred Bester once said “The whole point of extravagance is to act like a fool and feel like a fool, but enjoy it,” a humorous and candid sentiment for sure, but Mary of Bethany was motivated by something far more pure and powerful; love of the Lord.

Today’s Gospel challenges us to love God and our neighbor with the same extravagance that God displays in today’s 1st Reading when he sends his Son not only to serve the very creatures he created, but to die for them as well. To forgive 70 x 7 times. In doing so, we are transformed. We transform others as well, because a life rooted in the spirit is contagious. Extravagance breeds extravagance.

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Be extra extravagant in your love if neighbor this week, and be unafraid as you do so. For as noted Psychiatrist and Theologian Gerald May once said "I would prefer a thousand mistakes in extravagance of love to any paralysis in wariness of fear."

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