“Mary brought in a pint of very expensive perfume made from pure nard. She poured the perfume on Jesus’ feet, and then she wiped his feet with her hair.And the sweet smell from the perfume filled the whole house.” JOHN 12:3
Artful Eddie lacked nothing.He was the slickest of the slick lawyers. He was one of the roars of the Roaring Twenties. A crony of Al Capone, he ran the gangster’s dog tracks. He mastered the simple technique of fixing the race by overfeeding seven dogs and betting on the eighth.
Wealth. Status. Style. Artful Eddie lacked nothing.
Then why did he turn himself in? Why did he offer to squeal on Capone? What was his motive? Didn’t Eddie know the sure-fire consequences of ratting on the mob?
He knew, but he’d made up his mind.
What did he have to gain? What could society give him that he didn’t have? He had money, power, prestige. What was the hitch?
Eddie revealed the hitch. His son. Eddie had spent his life with the despicable. He had smelled the stench of the underground long enough. For his son, he wanted more. He wanted to give his son a name. And to give his son a name, he would have to clear his own. Eddie was willing to take a risk so that his son could have a clean slate. Artful Eddie never saw his dream come true. After Eddie squealed, the mob remembered. Two shotgun blasts silenced him forever.
Was it worth it?
For the son it was. Artful Eddie’s boy lived up to the sacrifice. His is one of the best-known names in the world.
But, before we talk about the son let’s talk about the principle: risky love. Love that takes a chance. Love that goes out on a limb. Love that makes a statement and leaves a legacy. Sacrificial love.
Love which is unexpected, surprising, and stirring. Acts of love which steal the heart and leave impressions on the soul. Acts of love which are never forgotten.
Such an act of love was seen in the last week of the life of Jesus. A demonstration of devotion which the world will never forget. An act of extravagant tenderness in which Jesus wasn’t the giver, he was the receiver.
A cluster of friends encircle Jesus. They are at the table. The city is Bethany and the house is Simon’s.
He was known as Simon the leper. But not any longer. Now he is just Simon. We don’t know when Jesus healed him. But we do know what he was like before Jesus healed him. Stooped shoulders. Fingerless hand. Scabbed arm and infected back draped in rags. A tattered wrap which hides all of the face except for two screaming white eyes.
But that was before Jesus’ touch. Was Simon the one Jesus healed after he delivered the Sermon on the Mount? Was he the one in the ten who returned to say thank you? Was he one of the four thousand Jesus helped in Bethsaida? Or was he one of the nameless myriads the gospel writers didn’t take time to mention?
We don’t know. But we know he had Jesus and his disciples over for dinner.
A simple act, but it must have meant a lot to Jesus. After all, the Pharisees are already clearing him a cell on death row. Won’t be long until they finger Lazarus as an accomplice. Could be that the whole lot of them will be on wanted posters by the end of the week. It takes nerve to have a wanted man in your home.
But it takes more nerve to put your hand on a leper’s sore.
Simon didn’t forget what Jesus had done. He couldn’t forget. Where there had been a nub, there was now a finger for his daughter to hold. Where there had been ulcerous sores, there was now skin for his wife to stroke. And where there had been lonely hours in quarantine, there were now happy hours such as this—a house full of friends, a table full of food.
No, Simon didn’t forget. Simon knew what it was like to stare death in the face. He knew what it was like to have no home to call your own and he knew what it was like to be misunderstood. He wanted Jesus to know that if he ever needed a meal and aplace to lay his head, there was one house in Bethany to which hecould go.
Other homes will not be as gracious as Simon’s. Before the week is up, Jesus will spend some time in the high priest’s house, the nicest in Jerusalem. Three barns in the back and a beautiful view of the valley. But Jesus won’t see the view, he’ll see only the false witnesses, hear the lies, and feel the slaps on his face.
He won’t find hospitality in the home of the high priest.
Before the week is up, Jesus will visit the chambers of Herod. Elegant chambers. Plenty of servants. Perhaps there is fruit and wine on the table. But Herod won’t offer any to Jesus. Herod wants a trick. A sideshow. “Show me a miracle, country-boy,” he will jab. The guards will snicker.
Before the week is up, Jesus will visit the home of Pilate. Rare opportunity to stand before the couch of the procurator of all Israel. Should be an honor. Should be a moment to remember, but it won’t be. It’s a moment the world would rather forget. Pilate has an opportunity to perform the world’s greatest act of mercy—and he doesn’t. God is in his house and Pilate doesn’t see him.
We can’t help but wonder, What if? What if Pilate had come to the defense of the innocent? What if Herod had asked Jesus for help and not entertainment? What if the high priest had been as concerned with truth as he was his position? What if one of them had turned his back on the crowd and his face toward the Christ and made a stand?
But no one did. The mountain of prestige was too high. The fall would have been too great.
But Simon did. Risky love seizes the moment. Simon took a chance. He gave Jesus a good meal. Not much, but more than most. And when the priests accused and the soldiers slapped, perhaps Jesus remembered what Simon did and was strengthened.
And when he remembered Simon’s meal, perhaps he remembered Mary’s gesture. Maybe he could even smell the perfume.
Not unlikely that he could. After all it was twelve ounces worth. Imported. Concentrated. Sweet. Strong enough to scent a man’s clothes for days.
Between the lashings, I wonder, did he relive the moment? As he hugged the Roman post and braced himself for the next ripping of his back, did he remember the oil which soothed his skin? Could he, in the faces of the women who stared, see the small, soft face of Mary, who cared?
She was the only one who believed him. Whenever he spoke of his death the others shrugged, the others doubted, but Mary believed. Mary believed because he spoke with a firmness she’d heard before.
“Lazarus, come out!” he’d demanded, and her brother came out. After four days in a stone-sealed grave he walked out.
And as Mary kissed the now-warm hands of her just-dead brother, she turned and looked. Jesus was smiling. Tear streaks were dry and the teeth shone from beneath the beard. He was smiling.
And in her heart she knew she would never doubt his words.
So when he spoke of his death, she believed.
And when she saw the three together, she couldn’t resist. Simon, the healed leper, head thrown back in laughter. Lazarus, the resurrected corpse, leaning in to see what Jesus has said. And Jesus, the source of life for both, beginning his joke a second time.
“Now is the right time,” she told herself.
It wasn’t an act of impulse. She’d carried the large vial of perfume from her house to Simon’s. It wasn’t a spontaneous gesture. But it was an extravagant one. The perfume was worth a year’s wages. Maybe the only thing of value she had. It wasn’t a logical thing to do, but since when has love been led by logic?
Logic hadn’t touched Simon.
Common sense hadn’t wept at Lazarus’s tomb.
Practicality didn’t feed the crowds or love the children. Love did. Extravagant, risky, chance-taking love.
And now someone needs to show the same to the giver of such love.
So Mary did. She stepped up behind him and stood with the jar in her hand. Within a couple of moments every mouth was silent and every eye wide as they watched her nervous fingers remove the ornate cover.
Only Jesus was unaware of her presence. Just as he noticed everyone looking behind him, she began to pour. Over his head. Over his shoulders. Down his back. She would have poured herself out for him if she could.
The fragrance rushed through the room. Smells of cooked lamb and herbs were lost in the aroma of the sweet ointment.
“Wherever you go,” the gesture spoke, “breathe the aroma and remember one who cares.”
On his skin the fragrance of faith. In his clothing the balm of belief. Even as the soldiers divided his garments her gesture brought a bouquet into a cemetery.
The other disciples had mocked her extravagance. They thought it foolish. Ironic. Jesus had saved them from a sinking boat in a stormy sea. He’d enabled them to heal and preach. He’d brought focus into their fuzzy lives. They, the recipients of exorbitant love, chastised her generosity.
“Why waste that perfume? It could have been sold for a great deal of money and given to the poor,” they smirk.
Don’t miss Jesus’ prompt defense of Mary. “Why are you troubling this woman? She did an excellent thing for me.”
Jesus’ message is just as powerful today as it was then. Don’t miss it: “There is a time for risky love. There is a time for extravagant gestures. There is a time to pour out your affections on one you love. And when the time comes—seize it, don’t miss it.”
The young husband is packing his wife’s belongings. His task solemn. His heart heavy. He never dreamed she would die so young. But the cancer came so sure, so quickly. At the bottom of the drawer he finds a box, a negligee. Unworn. Still wrapped in paper. “She was always waiting for a special occasion,” he says to himself, “always waiting ….”
As the boy on the bicycle watches the students taunt, he churns inside. That’s his little brother they are laughing at. He knows he should step in and stand up for his brother, but … those are his friends doing the teasing. What will they think? And because it matters what they think, he turns and pedals away.
As the husband looks in the jewelry case, he rationalizes, “Sure she would want the watch, but it’s too expensive. She’s a practical woman, she’ll understand. I’ll just get the bracelet today. I’ll buy the watch … someday.”
Someday. The enemy of risky love is a snake whose tongue has mastered the talk of deception. “Someday,” he hisses.
“Someday, I can take her on the cruise.”
“Someday, I will have time to call and chat.”
“Someday, the children will understand why I was so busy.”
But you know the truth, don’t you? You know even before I write it. You could say it better than I.
Some days never come.
And the price of practicality is sometimes higher than extravagance.
But the rewards of risky love are always greater than its cost.
Go to the effort. Invest the time. Write the letter. Make the apology. Take the trip. Purchase the gift. Do it. The seized opportunity renders joy. The neglected brings regret.
The reward was great for Simon. He was privileged to give rest to the one who made the earth. Simon’s gesture will never be forgotten.
Neither will Mary’s. Jesus promised, “Wherever the Good News is preached in all the world, what this woman has done will be told, and people will remember her.”
Simon and Mary: Examples of the risky gift given at the right time.
Which brings us back to Artful Eddie, the Chicago mobster who squealed on Al Capone so his son could have a fair chance. Had Eddie lived to see his son Butch grow up, he would have been proud.
He would have been proud of Butch’s appointment to Annapolis. He would have been proud of the commissioning as a World War II Navy pilot. He would have been proud as he read of his son downing five bombers in the Pacific night and saving the lives of hundreds of crewmen on the carrier Lexington. The name was cleared. The Congressional Medal of Honor which Butch received was proof.
When people say the name O’Hare in Chicago, they don’t think gangsters—they think aviation heroism. And now when you say his name, you have something else to think about. Think about the undying dividends of risky love. Think about it the next time you hear it. Think about it the next time you fly into the airport named after the son of a gangster gone good.
The son of Eddie O’Hare