March 29th, 2023 by Carl Buffington
I love these words from Raymond Brown, a prominent New Testament scholar. “How did the following of Jesus which involved love for him survive after he died?
The answer, I suggest, is that it survived only because love for Jesus was looked on as an ongoing element, even among those who never knew him during his ministry.” (From The Churches the Apostles Left Behind, by Raymond E. Brown p. 97)
Sometimes the love for Jesus is extravagant. Here are a couple of images of extravagant love from John’s gospel.
One is Mary, the sister to Lazarus and Martha, anointing Jesus at dinner. And the other is Peter being asked over and over again if he really loves Jesus. I think something beautiful was going on inside the heart of both Mary and Peter.
Lazarus, the brother to Martha and Mary, has just been raised from the dead.
The scene is dinner at Lazarus’ home with Jesus. Can you imagine the conversations?
Mary grabs some costly oil and anoints Jesus' feet and dries them with her hair.
Mary has spent a lot of time at his feet and now she has seen her brother come from the tomb, after 4 days dead, at the command of her friend Jesus.
What is going on?
For one thing, this was the last week in his life and he knew it. Even the disciples knew it. Thomas says, “Let’s go and die with him.”
And Mary knew Jesus’ death was imminent.
One scholar, Leon Morris, says, “She entered more fully into Jesus’ mind than the others and knew the end was near.”
Jesus looks around at the three he loves so dearly and then at Judas and says, “Leave her alone she’s anticipating and honoring the day of my burial.” (The Message)
And this was the pearl of greatest price for which you sell everything.
Letting down her hair was certainly an act of extravagant love. Leon Morris has suggested the reason she used her hair to wipe his feet was to share in this event, his coming death.
She wanted to participate in what he was about to go through.
She knows in her heart that he is stronger than death, she saw him call her brother from the tomb. The two of them are communicating in a way the others are not.
Somehow she knew there would be no stench of death here, as Martha had feared for Lazarus’ tomb. Rather it was the fragrance of costly Nard.
Somehow she trusted in her heart new life would emerge into a garden now redeemed of its original sin!
She wasn’t wiping up excess but she was sharing in his anointing. She wanted it on her hair, on her person, to share with him in what was to come!
In the last chapter of John’s gospel, we see the disciples invited to join the risen Jesus for breakfast on the beach, and Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?”
Some say that this dialogue is the most remarkable in all of scripture.
Others take it further and say in all of literature.
It’s critical for a number of reasons, and one is I believe it is a question Jesus asks of each of us. Do you love me?
I like to think Jesus at some point approached each of the other disciples with such a healing, power-releasing, and enabling confrontation as he did with Peter.
Surely Peter was being healed of his three denials of Jesus.
But I suspect, knowing Peter’s personality, more was happening inside him than even healing.
And this is where extravagant love shows itself.
It had to be heartbreaking for Peter! Perhaps he was getting the new heart the prophet Ezekiel talks about, and it was being set to the beat of extravagant love.
I believe, early on, Jesus had sparked a fire inside of Peter, and that he was now blowing it into a blazing inferno.
One that would consume Peter with extravagant love. So much so that nothing, no threat, no fear, like being crucified upside down, could ever put it out.
One that would spread worldwide and never go out. Peter was now on fire with an indomitable passion for compassion.
And what’s more, Peter’s authority to share in the ministry of Jesus, i.e. to draw others to Jesus, as he was just drawing his net full of fish, does not come from his position or office or standing in the community gathered but from one thing, his love of Jesus.
Raymond Brown continues, “And so one can make a case that a loving relationship to Jesus, which was a part of the following of Jesus in his lifetime, remains an intrinsic necessity in the church… a church must bring people into some personal contact with Jesus so that they can experience in their own way what made people follow him in the first place. Churches that do this will survive” (Brown, 97).
Which of the two stories sticks out to you and why? Let me know in the comments below.