PostScript: Giving our all
A story about the power of not holding on to what we have but instead being prepared to make extraordinary sacrifices (John 12.1-8).
- The situation in Parliament has been fluid this week. Failure to agree and the resulting confusion, anger and despair have led to positions becoming more polarised. How can the deadlock be broken? As Jeremy Corbyn meets with Teresa May to attempt to thrash out a plan for Brexit, how should we consider the cost of negotiation and of compromise in a world where both are in short supply? It takes an act of generosity and risk not to expect the worst of a rival group, or to break through a difficult situation or to make peace.
In addressing the issues the issues of the day, what sacrifices, large and small, will be needed from us and are we willing to pay the cost? For example:
This week’s Gospel story is about spending everything on what seems to be a futile gesture, and about giving away everything you have for another person. The woman risks shame and approbation but sees something that she must do for Jesus. It is irrelevant to her that she could have spent the money on a more worthwhile cause; it is simply enough that she obeyed the inner prompting of her heart and offered her all in response to Jesus. There is no way that this kind of love can be measured or calculated.
Is self-giving love sensible or contained? No.
Can it be embarrassing to see its extravagance? Sometimes.
Is it compelling? Absolutely!
In his poem Mother Teresa, Sydney Carter writes:
Over this dead loss to society
You pour your precious ointment,
wash the feet
that will not walk tomorrow.
Mother Teresa, Mary Magdalene – your love is dangerous.
Peter Owen Jones puts it like this in his book Small Boat, Big Sea (Lion Publishing 2001, p.6): ‘Real love is expensive. So it should be: it demands part of us.’ Do we have this kind of love at the heart of our mission statement? What have we discussed in our congregation’s meetings or church councils that represents this kind of dangerously generous love?
We live in a world that is becoming more mean and less generous; more suspicious of difference and less tolerant; more divided and less able to take the bold steps that are necessary to make peace. There is such a contrast between the wild extravagance of the woman pouring out the expensive perfume and the mean-spirited Judas counting up the cost and taking even what does not rightfully belong to him. In the end, it does not matter how little you have; what really matters is what you chose to do with what you do have. It is not only a moment of extravagance that counts, but also the discipline of cultivating an attitude of gratitude so that when the moment comes for a sacrificial action we know in our hearts how to respond. What can I do for you?
Like the parable of the great pearl, this story also teaches us to understand more about our worth in God’s eyes. We are the pearl that God gives up his all to find; we are the ones who are tired, we are the ones with feet that are dirty from our life journey. ‘What can I do for you?’ asks the Lord. And he washes our feet and welcomes us home.
You could focus on the needs of those who watch and wait at the side of the dying, and for those who work in hospices or with those near to death, that they would be able to pour out their care at the precious time of the ending of life.
Lord of our beginning and our ending:
may we know that we are loved;
may we learn how to stay open to your love;
may we embrace the fullness of life you offer us.
May we learn to live as if now is the time;
may we live in open hearted and generous ways;
may we know where to find comfort in community when we need a safe place.
May we find the courage to love as you loved us;
may we walk where you lead us and trust in your promise to be with us;
may we know deep in our hearts your generous, powerful and tender love
surrounding us, feeding us, and making us whole –
today and always.
You could use the song Alabaster by Rend Collective during the intercessions, or as personal meditation. It begins:
I am broken at Your feet
Like an alabaster jar
Every piece of who I am
Laid before Your majesty.
I will bow my life
At Your feet
Welcoming others is vital to the life of our communities and is a fundamental act of hospitality. Here is a house that is a safe space and that is full of food, love and perfume.
- How welcoming is our church community and how extravagant is it in giving and in sharing its resources?
- Should there be any limits to generosity?
- Is love ever wasted?
Ask the group to think about times when they have done something extravagant for another person. How did they feel? What was the result?
This week’s Gospel reading tells us a lot about generosity and mean-mindedness. You could make the offertory more interactive and ask those present to think about something they could offer to God – a commitment to offer something of themselves (time, listening, welcome, prayer). People could write these on cards which are then gathered in baskets to be offered to God.
What is the most expensive gift you have been given? Would you give it away? What is the most valuable thing you have? Was it expensive or is it valuable for other reasons? What is the difference between cost and value?
Two parables that speak about giving up everything: ‘The great pearl’ and ‘The widow’s mite’ offer some useful insights in connection to this week’s reading. Tell the story of ‘The great pearl’. You could do this using Godly Play.
Diane Craven is a Reader and a freelance education and spirituality consultant.
KEY: icon indicates ways to connect faith with everyday life
Hypertext links to other websites are for the convenience of users only and do not constitute any endorsement or authorisation by ROOTS for Churches Ltd.
PostScript is also available via Twitter and facebook.
ROOTS publishes weekly lectionary-based worship and learning resources online and in two magazines. FIND OUT MORE.