Dealing With Your Daddy Issues, Part Four of Four
The obligatory gift.
I understand why we have standard events and holidays where gift-giving is expected–we probably wouldn’t give many gifts unless we forced ourselves through our traditions. But sometimes it seems like we go through the motion of gift-giving without much heart: the ubiquitous Target gift card–perfect for any occasion, the graduation cash, the wedding shower place-setting of china, the Father’s Day necktie. Don’t get me wrong–almost all of the time the gifts that come to me are from people who love me and who really do want to express their love to me with a tangible expression of kindness. And when I get gifts for others for a holiday or birthday, it is because I love them very much. Not trying to be cynical, ungrateful or grinch-like.
But I do wonder–how much gift-giving would I do if it wasn’t expected?
There is a fantastic story–one of the best in the gospels, in my opinion–where there is a dinner party with all the social customs that accompany a gathering like this. Jesus is the guest of honor at the home of Lazarus, whom he just raised from the dead, and his sisters, Mary and Martha. And while everyone is eating, Mary pours a lot of perfume on Jesus’ feet and wipes it with her hair. This is a wildly extravagant and inappropriate action by Mary. And an expensive one–a waste of almost a year’s salary.
One of Jesus’ followers, Judas, was really disturbed by this act. Be honest, if you were in that room in that moment, you’d be more in line with Judas’ thinking–that this was inappropriate and not a good use of money. She should have been more responsible and shown Jesus her gratitude in a better way and, she should have not wasted money on perfume and given it to the poor instead. This would be a mature action by a mature woman. Mary was anything but.
But Jesus honors her extravagance. He recognizes the obligatory duties of all people for a functioning society (he isn’t insinuating that we shouldn’t care for the poor, just that that will be an ongoing responsibility for everyone). But he also recognizes the act of Mary as an extravagant, wonderful gift to him; not as an improper, impulsive act.
Why does Jesus honor this wasteful, undignified act? What is it that makes Judas out to be the bad guy and Mary as someone to be exalted? If Jesus is suggesting more of us should be like Mary, how do we do that? How do we become extravagantly inappropriate people?