There are not many moments in our lives where abundance or extravagance is accepted or expected. It is normally only the big public occasions or celebrations, which don’t happen all that frequently: Weddings, Anniversaries or Christmas. These are moments where it’s all about us; we want to put on a show and declare to the world that we can, we want to see abundance, and it gives us something to talk about. Beyond that, what we are normally used to hearing about is the latest celebrity who has spent money on something ridiculous; whether it is a gold iPhone or a new sports car. I don’t know about you but when I hear of such lavishness, I am drawn simultaneously to both condemnation and jealousy. Self-righteously I condemn the excess, but equally, I am a little jealous of the fact they have the excess to spend so freely. Sometimes, there are those rare moments in life where we hear positive news about a celebrity who has secretly been giving away millions to fund schools and hospitals in Africa, people like Keanu Reeves (from the Matrix) who donates all of his signing on fees to charity (we are talking in the millions) or footballers like Juan Mata who wants to start a social movement within the extravagance of football where 1% of everything goes into a central fund for charities.. Even when we hear stories about rich people being abundant in their generosity, we tend to be somewhat cynical: “They are only doing it because they have so much” or “They are only doing that to get good press coverage.” We can easily find a reason to dismiss the generosity of spirit, because then it does not challenge us or require something from us.
The Abundant God
I wonder if Abundance is ever something you think of when you think of Yahweh, the God of all things. If I were to hazard a guess, I would suggest it’s not. When we think about God we think about a Being who is all-powerful, all-present, all-knowing, all-consuming but we hardly ever think of him as being all-giving: Abundant. However, it is a quality of God that we see from the very beginning of the bible. In Genesis, our God creates, not out of need or want, but, simply out of his abundance – the overflow of his generosity. God creates so that we (the created) could simply know and enjoy his presence. He did not have to create and if he never created he would not be lacking – yet, (thankfully) he chose to create because he is a generous God. Creation was the most Abundant and extravagant act we will ever see. Then, from the Exodus to Micah: over and over again we see one thing – we see the Extravagant Abundant-ness of God, as he bears with a people who do not bear with him, he provides for their needs and keeps them from harm. In the New Testament, we see the single most generous act in the history of the universe, where the Creator God, gave of himself so that we could know the fullness of relationship with him. Jesus Christ chose the cross so that we did not have to and he paid the price that we could not pay. Out of his wealth, God paid off our debts, debts to himself that we could never pay. He redeemed us for himself from himself.
Mark 14 1-12
Recognising Abundance leads to Abundance
We find ourselves in Mark Chapter 14 looking at the woman who anointed the feet of Jesus with perfume worth a year’s average salary which, put in our own economic terms, would mean she bathed his feet with perfume worth £27,600. As you can imagine I am doing my Christmas shopping at the minute and one of the things I like to buy mum is perfume (even though she has enough). One of the most expensive perfumes I could find on the market was Absolute by Clive Christian, which costs a cool £3,500 for 30ml. So in these terms, this woman would have poured the equivalent of 216ml or 7.5 bottles of this perfume on the feet of Jesus. It is a startling act of abundance.
Jesus is in the house of Simon the Leper. It’s hard to be sure who Simon is, but with a little study and stretching, we can assume a few things about him from this and from parallel accounts of this story. Firstly, he was someone who had been healed from his illness (else he would have had to live in isolation); secondly, he is more than likely to have been a disciple of Jesus whom he had healed; thirdly, He is a Pharisee – someone who knows the law and knows the God of the Bible, someone who has been touched by God’s generosity through the scriptures, through his nation’s history and through the person of Jesus Christ. Reminding ourselves of these things helps us to know the context. This incident happens around the time of the feast of the Passover and unleavened bread, a feast that was in itself an act of remembrance of the generosity of God, when he heard the cries of his people and lead them out of slavery, through the wilderness and provided for them – all for his name’s sake. Now here sits the Teacher, in a house full of Pharisees, resting in Bethany, when the uninvited woman enters the house and anoints Jesus with perfume. Picture the scene as you read: while there are those who plot to take the life of Christ, there is one in there who gave all she had in response to him. She is a woman who has come to know Christ, out of gratitude for all that he has done for her, all she can do is respond to it with everything that she has.
Some of those in the house who witness this, react in the same way that we often judge the generosity of others: “What is she doing! What a waste.” Yet, Jesus response to the act shows us that it is not a waste, it is expected. He goes even further and describes her generosity as a beautiful act. It is an act of Abundant worship in response to the lavishness of Christ’s love.
Conclusion: Abundance has a Name
The scene is simple – While there are many who would plot to take the Life of Christ in order to protect what they have, there is one who gives all she has because she has grasped in him she has all she needs. The Abundance of God has a name, Jesus Christ, and that abundance is seen fully on the cross where he gave himself for us, he did what we could not, so, we could have what we should not. The Generosity of God has a descriptive name as well – that name is Grace.
Grace is a beautiful, generous and powerful thing. It has no quantity nor value that we can give it, it is even difficult to define yet, once we have grasped it, we are totally transformed by it, re-orientated by it and compelled to do one thing: Worship. What then we see with this woman who anoints the head of Christ with all that she has is, in fact, an act of worship in response to Grace. There are two groups in this wonderful moment, those who see Jesus and all he has done as a threat to their power and their desire to be in control, and this one woman who grasps Grace and responds in abundant worship. The question then is, which one are you? Do you know Christ personally? Do you know your sin and your need for a saviour? Or do you look at people who are real in their worship of him with horror and disgust? Abundance is not an outward act, it is an inward, heart reality. It has to be our reality, so today let us respond to Jesus, not just as a teacher, but as the king who gave his all so that we could know all we need to know.
 Luke 7 36-40 and Matthew 26