The Stink of Generosity

Tonight my Grow Group studied John 11, looking at the story where Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. It's a story full of emotion and twists and turns. I wouldn't claim to have the whole thing figured out.

There's a great moment toward the end of the story. Lazarus has died and has been buried. His sisters are grieving: Martha who has all the answers and likes to keep busy and Mary who anointed Jesus' feet with expensive perfume to prophetically prepare him for his death. Everyone is talking, weeping, crying out. Everyone but Lazarus. He's been in the tomb for days. He is beginning to decay. As the old English liked to say: "He stinketh."

Our Group noticed something tonight: Lazarus stinking up his tomb. In the ancient world, wealthy people anointed their beloved dead with expensive perfumes. This is why the wise men bringing frankincense to Jesus as a child was so special. This perfume was a luxury.

A member of our Group started wondering whether or not Lazarus and his family were wealthy. Maybe he stinkethed because his family couldn't afford the expensive perfume.

That's when we noticed the story about Lazarus' sister, Mary. Mary anointed Jesus with expensive perfume. She wasted it on him. It drove people crazy. The waste.

Perhaps the reason Lazarus didn't smell like perfume in the tomb was because his sister had poured the family perfume reserve onto Jesus' feet.

We often use perfume to cover up the stink of death. We mask the smell of death in our own lives, in our own relationships. But why would we hide the death when we are in the presence of the One who can turn death to life? Why waste perfume on a dead body that won't remain dead?

There is something wildly generous in Mary's act of anointing Jesus' feet. But generosity in one place, generosity toward Jesus, forces us to make choices. We may not have money for a fully-funded retirement. We may not be able to afford the nicest coffins. We may not be able to avoid the stinketh. But it will be worth it.

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