One of the deepest desires in life is to leave a legacy, make a mark, or contribute to the community. Jesus compares our life to a seed that finds fulfillment when it bears fruit. Therefore, we can never discover meaning and happiness until we become fruitful.
I have heard of a hospice nurse who had many conversations with patients on their deathbeds. She was surprised to hear so many people talk about their regrets in their final moments—the things that they failed to do and the things they wish they had done.
Even Bertrand Russell, one of the most brilliant minds of the 20th century, a peacemaker, and a prominent atheist, told his wife on his deathbed that he had never found peace in his life except in her arms. It sounded so romantic, but it was his fourth wife. The sad part is to hear that he never found peace in life.
The question is, what should we do so that we won’t regret it on our deathbeds? Is it given down or giving up? Giving down means contributing to the poor and needy. Giving up means offering to God.
The answer is worth exploring because we cannot afford to miss this wisdom if we want to leave a lasting legacy in life.
After some careful research, I found that the greatest contributions in human history are made by giving up, meaning by the power of love to our Creator because our devotion to the Creator makes us creative. Creativity is the key to leaving a lasting legacy.
I wonder if Bertrand Russell listened to classical music—Beethoven, Mozart, Handel, etc. I wonder if he appreciated the arts of Davinci, Michelangelo, Van Gogh, etc. These greatest artists drew their inspiration from the Creator, the Prodigal Father.
Last week we talked about God as the Prodigal Father, and this week we are given a passage to discuss the Prodigal Daughter. I didn’t plan it. I’m just following the lectionary, and the scripture lessons just fall together beautifully.
It prompted us to talk about the extravagant love of a woman as a perfect response to the extravagant love of God. In these extravagances, the greatest contributions in life take place. Maybe that’s why we call a genius a prodigy.
I am sure most of us are not dreaming about becoming a prodigy like Mozart or Michelangelo, but at least we want to find out what makes life flourish to the fullest so that we can also live a fruitful life and have no regret on our deathbed. Let’s begin.
[Hi, in case we haven’t met yet, I am Sam Stone, the Lightkeeper—you are the light of the world, and I am the keeper! (No pun intended). It’s my calling to help you shine your brightest so that God is glorified in you, and you are satisfied in God.]
Today is the Fifth Sunday in Lent. The Scripture lesson is from the Gospel according to John 12:1-8. [Listen to the Word of the Lord!]
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3 Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5 “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” 6 (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) 7 Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” (Jn 12:1–8).
[This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God!]
The perfume Mary used to anoint Jesus’ feet is worth three hundred denarii. A denarius is a day’s wage. Three hundred denarii would be about a year’s salary. It’s equivalent to about $50,000 in today’s job market, depending on where you live. That’s a lot of money spent on merely anointing Jesus’ feet.
It depicts an extravagant expression of love, devotion, and adoration—an image of a prodigal daughter responding to the prodigal Father.
How do you feel about this image? Do you agree with Judas Iscariot that it’s recklessly wasteful? Such an amount could feed many poor families and relieve some people from extreme poverty.
Recently, you have seen our church’s mission report about what we gave to the orphanages and refugees in Burma. A few hundred dollars go a long way. $50,000 could make a significant difference. Don’t you think Judas had a point? The Bible says,
But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (John 12:4-5).
Unfortunately, John noted in the next verse that Judas’ concern was hypocritical and that he was a thief. Judas didn’t care about the poor; he coveted the money for himself.
This story is rich and profound because it presents a tension between the two Great Commandments—loving God and loving people. Judas might think Jesus would agree with him and speak against Mary’s prodigal behavior.
Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” (John 12:7).
To Judas’ surprise, Jesus told him to leave her alone. Jesus wasn’t surprised at her action but expected her fervent devotion. She bought the perfume for Jesus’ burial, but she wanted to use it while he was still alive.
After raising her brother Lazarus from death, the religious leaders plotted to kill Jesus because Jesus’ popularity threatened their authority. Mary knew Jesus would be killed soon, and she wanted to express her love and gratitude for him while he was still alive. It’s as if Mary felt a passion for composing a sonata using this occasion.
Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. (John 12:3).
It’s a scene of beauty that people like Judas would never understand. The fragrance filled the room like the sound of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata touched the hearts of everyone present.
It’s both a romantic and mourning scene. Jewish women untied their hair only on two occasions—in front of their husbands or at the funeral. Was Mary expressing her love for Jesus, or was he mourning his imminent death? I think it’s both and more.
It’s more because she could also be expressing her gratitude for raising her brother Lazarus from death. It could also be her appreciation of Jesus’ beauty—the beauty of his grace, the beauty of salvation he is about to bring to this suffering world.
So, the emotions expressed in the scene are as complex as in Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, if not more. What Mary did is like a piece of art permanently engraved in the Bible for people to appreciate for thousands of years to come.
Unfortunately, Judas didn’t get it. Why? It’s because his greed blinded his vision. In this Lenten season, we have been meditating on the meaning of Jesus’ forty days of fasting and the three temptations he overcame.
What are those temptations? They are pleasure, prestige, and profit. These three human desires blind human beings from seeing God. If you want to make a difference in your life, you must overcome these three blinders.
Judas was blinded by profit, and that’s why he missed seeing what Mary was doing as well as his own egocentric motive. Vladimir Putin will likely end up like Judas because he is also blinded by profit and greed as I mentioned last week.
Blinded by greed, Judas missed making his mark in life despite three years of intimate journey with Jesus. Isn’t it sad that you walked so closely with the Son of God for so long, yet failed to know him?
By the time he realized he had betrayed the Son of God, it was too late, and he ended up buying a plot of land and committing suicide on it. So near and yet so far away! Physically, he was a disciple of Jesus yet spiritually an atheist.
I had a friend who said that you don’t need to believe in God to love people. Life is all about loving people. You don’t need God to tell you to love people. You can be an atheist can sincerely love people. That’s all you need. You don’t need God.
I said I’d like to meet someone like that, but I have found none so far. Those who say they love people without loving God always have ulterior motives.
Without knowing Judas closely, you would think he was a saint. He was the treasurer of Jesus’ company and knew the numbers. Seeing the perfume, he knew how much it was worth and how many poor people it could have helped. What a saint! Until you know his motive.
A PBS Frontline documentary titled “Business of Disaster” reported that insurance firms in New Jersey profited 400 million dollars from the Hurricane Sandy disaster relief. You can still watch it on the PBS website. It reminds me of Judas Iscariot.
Judas makes me suspicious of those who say they love people but don’t love God because their motive could be pleasure, prestige, or profit. Judas was also playing God by becoming the provider. Those who love God see themselves as stewards.
On the other hand, we have read about the Pharisees in the Bible who loved God but didn’t love people. They were blinded by prestige and power. That’s why Jesus told them to love God and love people and that the two commandments are equally important.
Loving God is our vision, and loving people is our mission. Loving God is our vision because it opens our eyes to see the grand scheme of things, the beauty of God, and the greater purpose of life.
Then we see loving people as our mission and stewardship. That means we love people with humility and without ego-driven ulterior motives. However, we cannot avoid these ulterior motives unless we learn to love God.
Loving God is the first and greatest commandment because it provides the vision of seeing all great things flow from Him, just like the Doxology says, “Praise God from Him all blessings flow.”
One of the greatest blessings is creative imagination that allows us to create incredible arts, music, poems, and architecture. It’s the source of our legacy.
King David is arguably the greatest artist in human history, with many beautiful and profound psalms recorded in the Bible under his name. He is also a musician, a warrior, and a king. He is well-rounded, and his legacy is priceless. He wrote,
“One thing I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the LORD,
and to meditate in his temple.” (Psalm 27:4).
This verse reveals where his vision came from—beholding the beauty of the Lord. If you read about David’s life, you will see his extravagant love for God. He was a prodigal son in terms of his abandoned devotion to God.
With his power of love for God, he took down Goliath, kept his herd safe, gained King Saul’s admiration, wrote beautiful poems, became an ancestor of Jesus, and blessed the world.
Like Mary’s perfume that filled the room, David’s fragrance filled human history.
Jesus revealed the secret of fulfilling the human desire to leave a legacy. It’s in loving God. He put it this way,
But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Mt 6:33).
The word “strive” is translated from Greek ζητέω (zētéō), which has a complex meaning. That’s why it’s also translated as “seek.” It also means “obtain” or “acquire” the knowledge. It’s like studying or learning.
So, “strive first for the kingdom of God” or “seek first the kingdom of God” is not something for you to passively search or half-heartedly look for it. It demands proactive action. So, “striving” might be a closer translation.
It’s has a sense of “whatever it takes” or “by hook or by crook.” Jesus is saying that discovering the kingdom of God is worth everything because everything falls together when you get it. It’s the key to the kingdom.
It’s worth suffering through fasting. It’s worth carrying the cross and following him because the reward is immeasurable. It makes life meaningful and fruitful.
Judas’ life warns us what we could miss if we miss the kingdom. The kingdom is finding out how to love God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul, and with all your strength.
Most of us grew up in the church, just like the disciples journeyed with Christ. Judas reminds us that we could be so near and so far away.
In the church, we also see people like Mary, who offers extravagantly expressing their love for God. Don’t be like Judas, who failed to appreciate their extravagant devotion.
I know this world makes us cynical, but it’s not worth being cynical like Judas because you could miss out on becoming fruitful and leaving a legacy.
Jesus expects you to become prodigal daughters and prodigal sons, expressing your love for God extravagantly as our prodigal Father who is extravagant with his love, even not sparing his only Son.
As we are now one week away from Passion Week, let us strive to fully understand the passion of Christ to resurrect our passion for loving God, loving others, and living life to the fullest, leaving a lasting legacy for generations to come. It’s worth it!
That’s it for today. I hope you find this message illuminating as much as I enjoy receiving it from the Head Office. Until we meet again, keep your light shining brighter and broader, and harvest the fruit of profound happiness.