So here is the text from this mornings sermon. The text from John 12 has always been an interesting one at best and a difficult one at worst. It is filled with background on Judas (he was not just the betrayer of Jesus, but a thief and the disciples treasurer) and the strange scene of Mary dumping expensive perfume all over Jesus feet and then wiping it with her hair. As you will read if you continue below I have always struggled a little bit with what Jesus does here. What follows below is my attempt at reconciling it to my understanding. Hopefully the struggle in my heart and mind might serve a Holy purpose for all of you too.
More to come this week as we get ready for Palm Sunday and Holy Week.
John 12:1-8 (TNIV)
1 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' honor. 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."
Prayer: Eternal God, come dwell among us now. Let us feel your presence and be drawn into your presence. Open our ears to hear your Word, open our minds to understand it. Open our hearts to believe it and open our eyes to see it realized in our lives. Right now Lord, I pray that you would hide me behind your cross so you are what’s seen and speak through me so you are what is heard. Amen.
‘What a waste! What a waste! Just think what good we could have done with all of that money.’ Can’t you just hear Judas saying that as he watched with disdain as Mary poured the expensive perfume all over Jesus’ feet? When you find yourself siding with Judas you know that you are probably on the wrong track, but that is exactly what I have always wanted to do when reading this passage. To me there just always seemed to be something wrong about the message Jesus gives in this text. Isn’t one of our main responsibilities taking care of the poor? Regardless of what he would later do, isn’t Judas right, isn’t it a waste to just dump all that perfume on Jesus’ feet? Is Jesus being selfish or self-centered – does he just like the attention that he is getting? Does Mary ever help out poor Martha, or does she get out of all the work and somehow still end up the favorite?
It would seem that if you take a look around the world today that maybe we have too many Mary’s. Certainly many have taken up Martha’s mantle and push on with doing the work of mission and ministry in our communities and in our world –. This is good, vital and encouraging work that should be celebrated and encouraged.
But there seem to be a lot of us Christians that are all too eager to just listen or talk about our faith, I know that I fall into that category more than I would like to admit. We have lots of people that are very serious about their ‘personal relationship with Christ’ but don’t seem to put that into practice in their lives at all.
Many of those outside the ‘Christian circle’ look at us as Christians as being more concerned about knowing what is ‘right’, looking the part of being a Christian, than we are with feeding the poor, visiting the sick and attending to the needs of those that can’t help themselves.
Too many people talk a lot about being ‘Christian’ but don’t marry any compassionate actions to their beliefs and people see us as hypocrites or uncaring, sort of like Mary sitting there ‘listening’ while Martha did the work.
Of course one part of this passage is undeniably true, from Jesus’ time until now, the poor have remained. It is not just the poor either; it seems like there can’t be more than two or three weeks without some major tragedy or natural disaster that strikes in our country or around the world.
Our daily lives, too, are filled with minor –really just more localized – tragedy and disaster. So, where are the Christians in all of this? Now clearly, many are responding, but Isn’t there a lot more that we should be doing, or maybe isn’t this something more of us should be doing? Isn’t this something all Christians are called to do?
So what is it then that Jesus sees that we don’t? Why is Mary the one that is lifted up?
Mary’s story is a story of a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. Mary quite literally serves at the feet of Jesus. She takes the opportunity she is given and lavishes expensive perfume all over his feet and humbles herself to the point using her own hair to wipe off and clean his feet. This is someone who is completely unconcerned about how things look or about outside appearances. She was utterly overwhelmed by the work of God’s grace in her life and was responding to Jesus in any and every way she knew how and she has soaked up every second she has had in the presence of Jesus Christ. For doing this she is lifted up as doing the right thing by Christ.
Could it be that Mary is spending time with Jesus, serving him, worshiping him, and soaking up his wisdom and grace so that she will have the wisdom, strength and grace to serve him faithfully when he is gone? Could it be that the willingness to serve others has to be fueled by a deep commitment to being in relationship with God?
While it certainly is true that there are still the poor among us, it also seems to be true that encounters with Christ are still happening as well. These special intimate encounters with Jesus Christ, often called mountaintop experiences, can be transformative life-changing encounters.
When you have spent time in the presence of the risen Lord Jesus Christ there is always an effect on your life; you can’t help but be changed.
We always have access to Jesus through the work and presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. In the Word this morning Jesus is calling us to be sensitive to and aware of those special times when we are drawn into His presence; when we have the opportunity to encounter the Living God in a special way, we must take advantage of it.
Jesus, as it may seem at first, is not advocating that we ignore the poor. In fact the most consistent place in which we can encounter Christ in one of these ‘mountaintop experiences’ is by actively engaging in serving others in the name of Christ.
The waste is not of the perfume, but of the moments with Christ – the moments to deepen, refresh and revitalize your faith, so that we are centered in our faith and filled with the Spirit to do the work that God has called us to, a work that will never be complete in this world – to reach out to and serve the poor, hungry, the sick, the least and the lost.
Make no mistake, Jesus wants and expects action from us. But Jesus is first concerned with the state of our souls and the disposition of our hearts and his words carry both wisdom and warning for all of us, those that would be Mary and those that would be Martha.
Jesus knew that time spent at his knee must lead to action, to applying what has been learned and responding to God’s action in our lives. We aren’t supposed to stay at Jesus’ feet forever. But Jesus was also making it clear that why we do something is actually more important than the doing of it. The ‘why’ of who we are and what we are, for Jesus, comes before the ‘what’ of how we act in the world and interact with each other.
Everything we do –Acting like Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus, worshiping him, serving him and seeking out those ‘mountaintop experiences’. Acting like Martha, serving others, working hard, putting action into our faith. Everything we do following the rules, feeding the poor is not done to somehow earn our way into God’s salvation, but rather as a response to the gift of God’s grace in our lives and that ‘while we were yet sinner’s Christ died for us.’ Amen.