Waste Management

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Matthew 26:6-13

There’s a story in Bible about a woman who just a couple of days before Jesus’ death did a beautiful thing for him. Would you be interested in learning how you might be able to do the same sort of thing?

Picture this scene. Jesus has been teaching each day in the temple courtyard, which is thronged with crowds of pilgrims who are in Jerusalem for the annual celebration of the Feast of Passover. But Jesus and his disciples return each evening to the little village of Bethany, just outside the city. It is the last week of Jesus’ life on earth.

Two days before the Passover Jesus and his disciples are entertained for dinner in Bethany by a man called Simon. It was the final evening of hospitality he would enjoy. In a little over 24 hours Jesus will be arrested and put on trial; within 48 hours he will be dead. But for tonight, at least, Jesus is an honored guest in Simon’s home.

While they reclined together at the dinner table a woman approaches Jesus quietly. It is Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. She draws near to the Lord, takes a large alabaster jar full of very expensive perfume, breaks it open, and pours it over Jesus’ head. Then she anoints his feet and wipes them with her hair, until the whole house is filled with the scent of this precious ointment. So precious, in fact, that the perfume Mary used to anoint Jesus was worth an entire year’s wages for an ordinary worker.

Why This Waste?

This extravagant gesture doesn’t go unnoticed. In the first place it was culturally shocking for a woman to behave the way Mary did in public, anointing a man who was not her husband, and then letting down her hair and even wiping his feet. But it was the financial aspect of this scene that attracted comment from Jesus’ disciples. The Gospel writer says,

When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” (Matthew 26:8-9, niv)

Such a heart for the needy, didn’t they have? Such sensitivity to the wasteful squandering of precious resources! Complaining like that about Mary’s extravagant act of love is the sort of comment you might expect from a person who would look at a magnificent Gothic cathedral and see it as a waste of good stone. In the fourth Gospel John adds a telling detail. It was Judas Iscariot who was particularly upset by this gesture, not because he cared so much for the poor, but because he was in charge of Jesus’ finances, and he was a thief (John 12:6). Poor Judas! All he could see was a wonderful opportunity for embezzlement dripping off Jesus onto the dining room floor.

But what about that question raised by the disciples? Was Mary’s act a waste? Well, I suppose it depends on your perspective. And, of course, how much you care about Jesus. It certainly was a dramatic gesture. And, true, very costly as well. The perfume was lost, there’s no denying that. In a sense, it was thrown away. Mary’s act produced no concrete results or tangible benefits. Once the fragrant aroma had faded from the air Mary had nothing left to show for all that money spent. So how should we evaluate what she did? Should we criticize Mary or commend her? How should we describe her gesture? Extravagant? Yes! Expensive? Yes! But wasteful? No, I don’t think so.

Something Beautiful for Jesus

Jesus didn’t think so either. Here’s how he reacted to it:

Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” (Matthew 26:10-13)

“Leave her alone,” Jesus tells them, “she has done a beautiful thing.” Jesus did not believe that Mary had acted wastefully. On the contrary, he said, her deed would become her memorial. He said that it was a lovely act which time would never tarnish. When everything around them was gone and forgotten, when the very stones of Simon’s house had turned into dust, Mary’s extravagant act of love and devotion to Christ would still be remembered and talked about. And, of course, the very fact that I’m doing that right now proves Jesus right.

Think for a bit about that idea of waste. What is it that’s truly wasteful, and what isn’t? There’s no denying that a lot of waste does goes on in our world. Just look at how we live in a throw-away society. Waste of goods, waste of precious resources like clean air, and water, and fuel??”it threatens to destroy our civilization, even the very earth itself. We live in a culture of disposables: things we have and no longer want, things we’ve broken and don’t bother to fix; disposable dishes, disposable packaging, disposable diapers, even disposable people. Why this waste?

But there is also another kind of action that might appear on the surface to be wasteful but in reality is a beautiful thing. There is a sort of waste that can serve others and renew us at the same time, an extravagance that communicates love, even if it can’t always be weighed or measured or quantified precisely and even if it doesn’t make sense from a strictly bottom-line viewpoint. Haven’t you ever wasted your money on a present for someone you love instead of saving it up for a rainy day? Haven’t you ever wasted your time reading a book to a lonely old person, or talking to a sad-looking stranger when you could have been productive doing some busy little task or other? Have you never had the courage to express how you feel about someone by indulging in some really extravagant gift, even if it cost more than you could afford and was embarrassing to boot?

We don’t all see things the same way, do we? One person’s waste is another person’s loving gift. The disciples thought Mary’s act in anointing Jesus was shockingly unnecessary. But Jesus thought otherwise. Many people today feel that money??”or for that matter a life??”spent for the sake of God is wasted. But I think the real losers are those who give their time, money, thought and energy to things that don’t really matter and won’t ever last. What a shame if you conserve your life and possessions so carefully you never end up doing anything for anyone else at all. What a waste that would be! Mother Teresa of Calcutta had a favorite saying: “Do something beautiful for Jesus today.” I think Mary of Bethany would have agreed with that, don’t you?

A Wasteful God

I also think that God himself must enjoy beautiful acts of creative waste. He appreciates extravagant gestures of love. After all, isn’t that how he himself behaves? God is a notoriously reckless giver, a known waster of resources. Consider the creation itself. What a waste of time and space! Think of all those planets and stars and galaxies spinning around in a near infinity of empty space??”all for the sake as far as we know of one little world. And those billions and billions of years since the beginning of time that scientists talk about, all leading up to just a few thousand years of human life. And why the thousands of millions of other possible worlds, all of them like so many gargoyles on a cathedral roof, stuck up there where only God and the angels can see them? Why this waste?

Why? Because that’s the way God is. This is how he is pleased to work. God is an artist who likes to execute things on a grand scale, never mind the cost. God enjoys going over the top.

There’s another place where God seems to have been needlessly extravagant. Did you catch how Jesus defended Mary’s great “wasteful” act of love? In fact, he answered the very question the disciples had raised: “Why this waste?” “She did it,” Jesus explained, “to prepare me for burial.” There was a purpose to Mary’s gesture that even she may not have fully understood at the time. In the chaos that would break out the following evening with Jesus’ arrest and that would continue right through his execution, one detail was overlooked. Jesus was never given a proper burial. On Friday afternoon when he died, there wasn’t any time. And on Sunday morning when there was time, there wasn’t any need.

But on Wednesday Mary did anoint him. She must have heard Jesus talk about his impending crucifixion. As women so often can be, she was more sensitive to the Lord’s mood than his male disciples were. Somehow Mary knew that the moment had come to show her love to Jesus in a tangible way. And so she anointed him??”before the fact??”for his burial.

And speaking about his burial, what about his death? Doesn’t that look like the biggest waste of all? So young he was, so noble, so good, so needed by all those around him, by all the people he helped and healed. There must have been many in Jerusalem that Good Friday afternoon who watched what happened on Golgotha and walked away shaking their heads, saying to themselves, “Such a waste!” Why this waste?

On the cross Jesus broke open his body and poured out his blood so infinitely precious, until it flowed down his head and out of his side and off his feet over the whole world.

Was this a waste?

No, it was a beautiful thing Jesus did, the most beautiful thing of all time and eternity.