Posted on Sun, Mar 17, 2013
March 17, 2013
Fifth Sunday in Lent
Gospel Text: John 12:1-8 “We’ll ALWAYS have Jesus”
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.’
You know that expression, “there is an elephant in the room,” or put into a question, “Does anybody notice the ‘elephant in the room?’” Does anyone see the ‘elephant in the room’ in the scene depicted by St. John? And believe me, it has nothing to do with Judas complaining about Mary applying expensive oil and perfume to the feet of Jesus!
The scene actually looks rather intimate, Jesus and his disciples are sitting around a table probably talking and then “Mary” begins to anoint Jesus feet with what John calls, “nard,” from the plant, “spikenard” known for its aroma and medicinal purposes. The nard she uses is apparently costs the same as a years wages.
There are several things we need to highlight here:
1. We don’t know which ‘Mary’ this is. Is this Mary, the sister of Martha? Is it Mary Magdalene? Is it another Mary that has experienced some kind of words or compassion from Jesus that she feels that anointing the Masters feet with the most luxurious thing she knows of is the only way for her to express her gratitude?
2. This Mary applies anoints Jesus’ feet, taking the obvious position as a servant, or slave.
3. Jesus is obviously appreciative and moved by her kind actions, regardless of her motive.
4. Although Judas’ words may ring true as he points out to extravagance of a servant simply anointing someone’s feet with such a costly product in a time of great need. Anointing the feet of a guest with water or olive oil was common in those days, and expected to be done only by the servants as an act of hospitality from the master of the house.
But there is something more to Judas’s words that many people tune in to… we may put ourselves in the place of Judas, and it is hard to disagree with his complaint. Frankly, as we work hard as a congregation trying to support the mission of Angel Network Charities to feed hungry people, I think many people would side with Judas. Although, I don’t need one, but if one day the Council Of Deacons suddenly decided to give me a decked out Cadillac Escalade… hybrid… with a sunroof and kayak racks… from the church budget, I think some people would raise a few eyebrows!
“Think of what we could do with $74,000! (I checked the price!) There would be the uproar! And justifiably so! Think of all the people we could feed, the mission work we could do, and all the repairs to our campus!
And all of those complaints would be justified…
But now, put yourself into the Mary who is prostate down at Jesus’ feet, feeling that even bowing down like a slave, anointing Jesus’ feet with a perfume that is more costly than anything she could possibly earn in her lifetime, and the action of wiping His feet with her hair is still not enough to express her feelings of forgiveness, of being made whole, or just simply accepted by someone referred to as ‘master?’ There is something going on in Mary’s heart and life that has moved her to such an extreme act of gratitude and humility. But we don’t know what it is… but there is something there that only Jesus has been able to touch, heal or make whole.
For her, even her most extravagant expression of love, humility and gratitude are still not enough to properly express her feelings to “The Teacher,” Jesus of Nazareth.
Yet, Judas can only complain… Jesus knows his heart and intentions. Judas’ words ring out at hollow and without substance, no matter how compassionate and steward-conscious they may sound.
Jesus brings painful clarity to the reality of the moment, as well as the meaning to His mission in which he is about to fulfill.
Jesus says, ‘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.’
Yes, the text is another foreshadow of what is about to happen when Jesus enters Jerusalem. John has written this text for us, we are “Easter People.” We know the end of the story. But there is more; in a few days Jesus’ prophesy will come true, and they will no longer be with Jesus as he will be dead and BEYOND THEIR REACH, entombed behind a huge stone door. And this will be the time when our cosmos will be at its loneliest and most fragile state. I just don’t know how I would have reacted during those three days if I were one of the twelve.
But, we go back to my original question, have you figured out the ‘elephant in the room’ may be?
Look at their location; they are just outside of Jerusalem back at Lazarus’s house, and Lazarus is there, sitting next to Jesus. Do you remember the little incident with Lazarus in John 11? In John 11, we hear the story about Lazarus dying and Jesus raising him up back from the dead! The man died, was wrapped and interned properly, but after Jesus told him to “Come out!” he was raised and his neighbors helped him get off the death wraps! And on this day, Lazarus is sitting with his family, Jesus, Jesus’ disciples and maybe some others. This is not your usual party host!
Imagine attending a party at the house of a friend of yours who just passed away, but was now hosting you at his own house! What kind of conversation would you expect? I don’t know about you, but complaining about even extravagant demonstrations of appreciation like Mary was doing in front of everyone, would pale before wanting to ask Lazarus, “What was it like, being sick, knowing you are going to die, dying, and then being raised back to life by your friend, our rabbi, Jesus?” or “WHAT WAS IT LIKE ON THE OTHER SIDE FOR FOUR DAYS?!!!”
The lesson is about resurrection, service and gratitude! What Jesus says, is true, He will be away from them in physical form in the very near future, but he will always be with them.
Mother Theresa would say that Jesus was telling them that Jesus would be with them IN the poor. Which is also true; but I would like to remind you of Jesus’ sermon on the mount, according to St. Matthew, Matthew 5: 3
3 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
I think it is painfully clear that the Mary, kneeling at Jesus’ feet fits somewhere in the “Blessed are they” category. It doesn’t matter which.
There will always be people defined as “poor in something.” I’m not just thinking about monetary wealth, there is not one person among us that has not been poor in spirit at sometime in our lives. There is not one of us that has never felt like the Mary anointing Jesus’ feet. There is not one person among us that has not felt like an outcast, unforgiven, reviled, betrayed, alone, hopeless, unforgiveable, depressed or trapped in a life of addiction and a downward spiral.
Yet, even though Jesus will force us to be on our own those three lonely days, after the resurrection, Jesus will send the Holy Spirit, and those fearful and terrified disciples will boldly go out into the world preaching the Good News of Christ crucified and resurrected. They will go out and heal as Jesus healed. People will come to faith, just as you have, and more people will go out to preach, teach, comfort and heal.
Look at your congregation. Not one of us has escaped the feeling of being ‘poor’ or ‘poor in spirit,’ but that does not mean that Jesus has ever left us for one second, or let us alone three days, not even a second. Everyone in this room is a Child of Christ, able to preach, teach or comfort, and I have witnessed our Risen Lord in your words and actions many times.
There are so many people just like Lazarus in our midst! There are so many of us who have walked through that ‘valley of death,’ only to be made alive again through the grace, love and justice of Christ. Who are you in the story?
Imagine sitting at a table with Lazarus and Jesus, snacking on figs and eating good bread… as an Easter Person, what would you like to ask Lazarus? Amen
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