Sermon, Lent 5C, Sunday April 7, 2019, St Petri.
Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honour. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 3 Then Mary took about a pint[a] of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
4 But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 5 “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.[b]” 6 He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.
7 “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. 8 You will always have the poor among you,[c] but you will not always have me.”
9 Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, 11 for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him.
I love being part of celebratory meals. Birthday meals, meals celebrating the end of medical treatment or the end of Harvest or Vintage, or a milestone for someone. Good friends, good gifts from God, good life, good food and wine…..
That is what these three siblings, Mary, Martha and Lazarus were doing: Throwing a thankyou meal in honour of Jesus. He had just done the unimaginable. He had resuscitated a dead man. And here he is, Lazarus, at the table enjoying and hosting this thankyou meal.
Martha serves the way Martha serves. She gets the catering and the house under control for this fine gathering. It is her way and it is a good way. Lazarus is at the table with Jesus and the disciples and other locals. He is a living testimony to the grace and power of this man whom they are honouring this Saturday night at the end of Sabbath day.
But Mary. Where is she? What’s her part? We are going to find out…..and it will make us squirm…..or jump for joy.
It must have been the smell that first drew their attention. They know smells. They smelled death just before this. Death stunk as Lazarus came out of the four-day tomb. Now the smell is sweet – sweet precious and very expensive oil imported from far away India.
She has a flask about the size of a soft-drink can and kneels at Jesus feet while he is reclining on his side at the low table with Lazarus and all the others. Mary pours this $25,000 bottle of perfume on Jesus’ feet.
If that is not enough to stop the chit-chat, then what she does next must have created a deaf silence with unspoken questions, feelings, wonderment and even anger just bursting to break out.
Mary weeps. Are they tears of thankfulness and joy or tears of grief anticipating what’s coming?
Using the precious perfume is over-the top. The tears are arresting. But then the next part of her serving is risky and offensive. She let’s down her hair in full public view (a real no-no for the culture) and uses her own hair to dry Jesus’ feet.
Mary is serving with her very self, her whole self, at great cost to her name but little regard to what anyone thinks.
Someone has to say something about this. It will be Judas. This is too much. This is pure waste. This is irresponsible spending. This is unnecessary devotion. How much could $25,000 do for the many people in this town who have got nothing and no hope of ever having any real life. There is no Centrelink here!
I can see Judas’ logic. I suspect you can too. But he is missing something. He is missing the main thing and the main thing is beyond logic. He is missing Jesus’ value, Jesus’ place, Jesus’ grace and hope.
Judas wants what Jesus can give him (money on the side) but he does not want Jesus himself. He wants the good stuff without the relationships. He wants the blessing without the following and learning. He wants the kudos from being around the king of kings without the suffering of the king of kings and a life of unfettered devotion to him.
John says as much as he reports Judas’ fixation on money and theft that goes with it. Of course, Judas will in a few days from now make about $1,000 for selling Jesus out. Quite a contrast the ‘all-in’ devotion to Jesus shown by Mary (and maybe Martha and Lazarus). ‘Where you treasure is, there your heart will be also”, Jesus said.
“So Judas”, Jesus says, “Leave her alone”. He could have said more about what they all knew about Judas, but he doesn’t….not yet. That will come….
Judas, leave her alone for three reasons
- Verse 8b: Leave her alone, because you do not always have me with you.
Mary knows the preciousness of Jesus’ presence and what he has meant for her and her siblings, especially her alive brother, Lazarus. She is right to give her all in devotion to me. Leave her alone Judas. She knows my high value; my grace, my forgiveness, my love and my power and how it makes all things new and brings hope beyond human hope to living now.
2. Verse 8a: Leave her alone, because the poor you always have with you.
Judas, care for the poor, don’t dismiss them. But something is about to happen that is unique, world-changing, world-beating and person transforming.
God is close. God is acting. God is moving. God is here and this is very special. Your heart is wrong Judas. Your heart is out of kilter with my heart and purpose and it will kill you. It always does. Leave her alone Judas. Her heart is in step with my heart and purpose and this will give her life. It always does.
3. Verse 7: Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. That is, leave her alone and don’t hinder her from keeping her love and wonder and joy in the face of my death.
In just a week’s time, she will need to treasure me on the day of my burial. She has been overjoyed at my power at her brother’s grave, and I want her to be overjoyed at the day over my own grave coming soon. Leave her alone Judas. Don’t infect her with your fixation on easy money and false piety.
So, who are you at the moment – fixated on the many important things that keep the family, the career, the well-being on the road or ready to give your life away on Jesus?
I know what it is to get fixated on the many issues of life. I know that it is dry. I know that vintage has been very limited. I know that we need a wet winter but it seems we may not get one this year. I know that many people are wondering what next summer will bring and who will go to the wall, who will lose the job, who will struggle…… You’ve got to think about that and make adjustments. That is the responsible thing to do.
But friends, we will always have these issues with us. There will always be money issues, people issues, well-being issues, marriage issues, family issues, climate issues, government issues and etc.
I believe the Spirit is calling us to want Jesus for real and trust him in all of it. He is calling us to do our thanks to the Lord as Mary did despite the cost, despite the misunderstanding friend or family member or society; despite current circumstance.
Easter is coming. It is OUR time of the year. It is when Mary will finally experience the presence not only of the earthly Jesus, but the glorified Jesus and she will never be the same. She will know life to the full in and beyond the bills and the fights and the problems and the concerns and the dollars or lack of. That’s the gift of this kind of devotion. We receive much more then we give!
Will you stick with the concerns of the world and family and business and career and etc or get on your knees and give yourself to him again in thanks and love for his love and power already at work in you this Easter.
Will you ask him to show you his worth to you and that your life is new this Easter. Will you hear his Famous Last Words from the cross and know the joy and the hope of Jesus that will make Judas redundant in you.
Yes, be quiet, Judas, because it’s your kind of mindset that would stand by Jesus’ grave and say: So much for that Messiah. So much for that way to succeed. So much for that way to get rich.
So, you be quiet, Judas, and let Mary and us keep this same love and hope when we stand by Jesus’ grave soon or we stand at each other’s grave whenever that happens.
Friends, be lavish with your devotion to Jesus this Easter because we have all died with Jesus in the font and been raise to his life purely and only because of his grace and his power.
Leave me alone, Judas. Stay with me Jesus.
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