Fifth Sunday in Lent – 17 March 2013
What a wonderful God we serve. What a joy it is to be reminded on this fifth Sunday in Lent about the Abundance and Generosity, which flows from God our heavenly Father. As we share in the Baptism of Janet Eyres today, let’s be reminded of God’s abundant love for all God’s children upon the earth. In our worship service, I hope that the fragrance of God’s love emanates from each of us like a beautiful perfume.
I am again using the biblical reflections by Rev John Barr from Uniting World in his Bible Discussion Series for Lent Event 2013 “A People on the way” as a stimulus for my sermon. Here are John’s reflections on today’s Gospel reading from John 12:1-11
Jesus comes to Bethany, a village on the Mount of Olives some three kilometres east of Jerusalem. This is the home of Lazarus, the one whom Jesus had just raised from the dead. Mary is Lazarus’ sister and here she demonstrates a lavish outpouring of gratitude towards Jesus as she anoints his feet with expensive perfume.
The perfume is “pure nard”, an expensive scent made from a rare flowering plant found high in the Himalayan Mountains. This substance gives out a fragrance that permeates the entire house.
Many have asked about the significance of what Mary did. The aroma of the perfume stands in stark contrast to the stench of Lazarus’ decaying body (as described in John 11:39). Meanwhile Mary’s act is also described in terms of “anointing” and this is associated with kingship, as monarchs were anointed on the head during their coronation. Others suggest Mary’s anointing of Jesus may be a prelude to his imminent death and burial.
Whatever the meaning of Mary’s act, it is clear her actions are extravagant. A pound of the perfume is equal to the yearly income of a local labourer. Meanwhile, the extravagant nature of Mary’s actions can be further seen in her gestures as she wipes Jesus’ feet with her hair. These gestures could be described as tactile, intimate or even erotic. Indeed, a respectable Jewish woman would not appear in public with her hair unbound. Neither would she touch a man except for her husband and children.
Judas breaks in here. While the intimate nature of Mary’s actions may be disturbing, Judas’ protests focus on economic and charitable issues. His logic seems perfectly reasonable
– “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” There is haunting familiarity here to Judas’ protest as many of us resonate with the call to “live simply so that all may simply live”!
Jesus’ response raises eyebrows. “Leave her alone. She brought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
What is Jesus on about here? Is Jesus siding with those who promote lavish ritualism or excessive consumption at the cost of those who are pleading for the poor?
There are a lot of things going on here. Could it be that real worth is not located in consumable items – rather, real worth is grounded in being a follower of Jesus? Moreover, does Jesus deserve our greatest treasure – whatever that may be? Is Mary’s action a model for the kind of devotion Jesus may seek from us?
Another perspective places a focus on Judas and his real motives. Is Judas guilty of being too cautious, too pragmatic and too frugal? Does Judas’ obsession for budgets lead him to neglect the fundamental value of persons? Does Jesus’ comment “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke12:34) come into play here?
Indeed, Judas Iscariot is the one who goes on to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver and it does appear that Judas completely misses the point about who Jesus is and what Jesus’ mission involves.
The significant point here is that in this passage, Mary’s lavish, extravagant actions open our awareness to a world of abundance. The overriding theme in John 12:1-11 concerns a reference to the generosity of God and life in all its fullness. Here our values and priorities are challenged, for what value can one put on Christ? What price can we place on this? Is there anything more important than the fullness of life Jesus Christ offers?
Furthermore, with the gift of abundant life, there comes a real awareness of the generosity of God. God is generous towards us in the most abundant way. And this evokes something in return. It evokes a deep sense of gratitude as God challenges us to give as Christ gives.
In this last week before Holy Week…..be the Abundant and Generous fragrance of Christ to all you meet on the purple path to the cross.
Rev. Brad Foote