“How much?” the pastor jolted upright in his leather chair.
“Forty-thousand dollars,” she said.
“But…” he readjusted his glasses, “…why would…that many wouldn’t even fit in the church.”
“You might be surprised how much it costs to ship the best orchids, gazanias, and cherry blossoms from Brazil, South Africa, and Japan. Specialty flowers, you know, are my business.”
“But…” the pastor’s hand, having left his glasses, hung in mid air, “why not donate that money somewhere else…the building fund…some missionaries…the homeless shelter?”
“I want to give God something beautiful.”
“But, they’ll just die.”
He opened his mouth, but nothing came out. He closed it again. “It just seems…” He faltered.
“…like a waste?” she said.
He cleared his throat and looked away.
* * * * *
Photo courtesy of Jorge Zapata via unsplash.com
As American Christians, we’re likely to sympathize with the pastor—unless, we find the same story in Matthew 26. There we find ointment instead of flowers, disciples instead of a pastor, and a woman wanting to do something beautiful for Jesus.
Familiarity, they say, breeds contempt, but when it comes to Bible, familiarity makes us numb to the shock of the story. A year’s wages for five minutes of worship. Hundreds of poor people that could have been fed for months. Religious onlookers who thought they knew better. How would Jesus respond?
When we revisit this story, to the tune of $40,000, Jesus’ affirmation of the woman’s extravagance grates on our financial sensibilities. As Americans, we’re children of puritan work ethics and the American dream. As Christians, who are doing eternal work, it seems obvious that God values the longterm plan over the experience of a moment.
How we think about our resources—whether finances, time, or relationships—is deeply shaped by the cultures in which we live, including our national, church, and family cultures. Sorting through those factors, to get to God’s view of things, can feel as futile as trying to remove the price sticker from a gift bought at Marshall’s. So, instead of tackling the issue head on, let’s see what food has to tell us about God’s view of extravagance.
Few things are as transient as eating. While a meal can live in our memories, it can’t be revisited like the pages of a book, our parents’ house, or our retirement funds.
Take a plate of fried chicken. Despite all the time that goes into makIng it—hatching the chick, feeding, slaughtering, plucking, butchering, shipping, selling, buying, dredging in flour, and deep frying it—the meal is devoured in minutes. After a couple days, all traces of the chicken are gone from, or assimilated into, our bodies. Cooks throughout history—whether in mud huts, bedouin tents, or pasta shops in Italy—have poured their creativity, day after day, into the work of a moment.
The ephemerality of the culinary arts—like the woman in Matthew 26—challenges the utilitarianism that dominates much of evangelical Christianity. We want every penny to count, to get the best return on our investments, so we eek out as much as we can from every dollar. We’re doing eternal work, after all.
While investing, Dave Ramsey style, may be close to godliness, the culinary arts reveal another side of God. He’s a God who lavishes his extravagance on the moment, and not just on the ten-year plan.