April 9th 2020
“Why this waste?” – Matthew 26:9
The reporter held the microphone close to the retiring bishop’s mouth.
“If you were to boil it down to a few words,” he curiously inquired, “what should define Christian behavior?”
The aged cleric stroked his scrappy beard. After decades of ecclesiastical service—baptisms, funerals, communions, weddings—he was in no rush to answer the impatient young journalist. Silence lingered for a few painful seconds.
“Christians,” he finally replied, “Christians....are people who love with waste. We are called to be wasteful lovers.”
These words created some dissonance for me as a young seminarian, having never put love and waste in the same sentence. Growing up in a household that frowned on throwing anything away, I developed an early aversion to waste. My lunch bag was a recycled Oreo bag—with an old mayonnaise jar doubling as a thermos for my powdered milk. I was even expected to bring them home every day from school...so they could be used again and again! “Waste not, want not”: a mantra seared into my consciousness. I still have problems throwing away a Starbucks cup.
But here was a retiring man of the cloth saying the essence of Christian behavior is to love wastefully? Shouldn’t love be invested like a good mutual fund? You know, sprinkle it around, minimizing risk, making sure we get the best return on our investment? And what about stewardship? Why would a clergy propose to “waste” anything—especially love?
The Easter story is really a story about wasteful love. It begins with an unknown woman sharing her most valued possession and ends with a man laying down his life for others. Scholars actually suggest that the first authentic Christian in scripture is the anonymous woman in Matthew’s gospel account called The Anointing at Bethany. She’s the only one who understands what’s really going on, generously surrendering her expensive perfume and preparing Jesus for what’s coming next: his death and burial.
“Why this waste?” protest the disciples with righteous indignation as she anoints Jesus. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”
To everyone’s surprise, Jesus doesn’t agree with his buddies. He doesn’t throw the woman under the proverbial bus or dismiss her gesture as foolish sentimentality. Jesus actually elevates her action, offering a less than subtle rebuke: “She has done a beautiful thing for me...and her story will be told forever.”
Once again the disciples miss the point. They fail to see the heart behind the act. It’s easy to do. As the leader of a non-profit, who spends much of his life asking for donations, I can identify with the disciples. Sell the perfume on eBay. Get the cash. Make a significant donation to your local food bank. That’s practical. But I miss the point. I miss the heart.
I meet a lot of amazing Christians in my travels. In general we do a pretty good job of loving. But often our love is a practical, appropriate, boundary-abiding, a get-something-in-return kind of love. It’s love, but often safe and calculated.
Jesus is different. He’s a threat to those in power. Why? I argue that he can’t follow the rules of those who determined who should and shouldn’t be loved. His heart was too big. His love knew no boundaries. His love could not be contained by religious, social, ethnic and geographical barriers of his day. So he made enemies. It cost him his life.
And this is part of Easter’s life-giving message of Hope. We invite this resurrection power to enter our sometimes small, crusty, fear-filled, boundary-abiding hearts and liberate us to love—wastefully.