A young couple, Della and Jim, were very poor but very much in love. Each had one unique possession. Dellaâ€™s hair was her glory. When she let it down it almost served as a robe. Jim had a gold watch, which came to him from his father, and was his pride. It was the day before Christmas and Della had exactly one dollar eighty seven cents to buy Jim a present. She went out and sold her hair for twenty dollars; and with the proceeds bought Jim a platinum chain for his precious watch. When Jim came home at night and saw Dellaâ€™s shorn head, he stopped in shock. It was not that he did not like it or love her any less; for she was lovelier than ever. Slowly he handed her his gift; it was a set of expensive tortoise-shell combs with jeweled edges for her lovely hairâ€”and he had sold his gold watch to buy them. Each had given all there was to give. Real love cannot think of any other way to give.
Many of you probably recognize this story. It is a beloved story written by O. Henry and published in 1906. It is called The Gift of the Magi and since its original publication in 1906, the story has been told and retold, and adapted into books, musicals, plays, songs, poems, up to the present day.
There is just something touching about Della and Jim. Their completely selfless acts of love are moving, worth remembering, worth imitating. There is something extravagant about this love.
A young woman named Mary is having a very special guest for dinner. Her sister Martha is at home preparing dinner and Mary is rushing to pull together 300 denarii--or an entire yearâ€™s salaryâ€”to buy pure nard, an extremely luxurious and extravagant gift. Jesus in on his way to Jerusalem for the Passover, but is stopping in Bethany to have dinner with Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. When they are gathered at table, Mary takes this precious nard and anoints Jesusâ€™ feet and wipes them with her hair.
I wonder what that dinner was like.
Outside it must have been dark and foreboding. The chief priests and Pharisees had given orders that anyone who knew where Jesus was should alert them, since they wanted to arrest him. But it must have been bright inside, the table covered in candles so everyone could see, Jesus in the center.
The mood must have been joyful. After all, Jesus had just raised Lazarus from the dead after being in the grave for four days! But it must have also been somber and tense. Lazarus was dead, but is now alive. Jesus is alive but will soon be dead. And we are dead but are soon to be alive.
They must have been hungry. Martha had been working all day, Mary had been running around buying nard, Jesus and his disciples had been traveling, Lazarus was dead, but is now alive. But those at table must have been completely satisfied at the same time: an extravagant meal already spread before them in Jesus. The Bread of Life literally filling their table.
And in the middle of this dark night, around this table, between joy and fear, between gratitude and uncertainty, Mary sees. Mary sees and understands the great gift in front of her, and she touches Jesus. She gets down on her knees on the cold, dirt floor, she opens her extravagant gift that took all she had to buy, this jar of pure nard, and she anoints Jesusâ€™ body, Jesusâ€™ feet. She takes off her head covering, undoes her long, dark hair,
and she wipes his feet. Unashamed, unapologetic, real, extravagant, love!
â€śAnd the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.â€ť I wonder if the smell of the perfume made Judas stop what he was doing in shock. But unlike Jim from The Gift of the Magi, who when he saw Dellaâ€™s shaved head loved her even more than he did beforeâ€”because Dellaâ€™s love moved himâ€”Judas condemns Mary for her extravagant love. I wonder if the room became even more tense, the moment ruined, Judasâ€™ extravagant greed stomping on Maryâ€™s extravagant love. But Jesus soon resolves this tension. He sees right through Judasâ€™ insincerity. â€śLeave her aloneâ€ť he says. Mary knows what she is doing.
And it is Maryâ€™s extravagant act of love towards Jesus that we remember. Ever since this story was told, it has been told and retold, turned into books and movies and poems and songs and artwork and is a part of our story. There is just something touching about Maryâ€™s act of love. Her completely selfless act of love is moving, worth remembering, worth imitating. There is something extravagant about this love.
Do you have a story of extravagant love? Do you have a Jim, or Della, or Mary in your life? Are you a Jim, or Della, or Mary? Perhaps yes for some of us, and perhaps no. But one thing we all have in common, one thing we all share, one thing that fills our lives just as the fragrance of the perfume filled the entire house that evening, is the extravagant love of God given to us through Jesus Christ. And perhaps it is during this time of year, during Lent, approaching Holy Week and Easter that we experience this extravagant love of Jesus the most. A life laid down for oneâ€™s friend, can there be a more extravagant gift or act of love? There is something life transforming about Jesusâ€™ act of love. His completely selfless act of love moves us, changes us, transforms us. It is worth remembering, worth imitating. There is something extravagant about his love.