2019, Second Sunday of Lent
Pastor Jerry Reynolds
Today’s lessons put us in sensory overload. They are
all about extravagance: from the extreme sweetness of perfume, to the stench of
death; from the joy of Lazarus returned from the dead, to Jesus being condemned
to his own death, in restoring Lazarus life. And then we see extravagant love
not only to Jesus but God’s extravagant love to us again.
In the John’s Gospel, we hear how Mary, the sister of
Lazarus, anointed Jesus' feet with a costly perfume called
nard. In today's dollars it’s worth tens of thousands/$. So Mary poured it out on Jesus' feet. And Jesus did not object!
It's an amazing
scene. Matthew in his gospel adds a memorable remark from Jesus: "I tell
you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she
has done will be told in memory of her." Over two thousand years later, in
a place half way around the world, what Mary did long ago is still being
told. It is a lasting tribute to a woman's love for Jesus Christ.
Nard is from the spikenard plant that grows high atop
the world in the Himalayan Mountains--that vast mountainous region that separates
China from India. There it’s delicate blossoms were crushed, made into a sweet
smelling ointment called nard. It’s bottled in expensive alabaster jars and
then shipped some 3000 miles by camel caravan across what today we call
Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Syria—and finally to the outskirts of Jerusalem.
How Mary got her hands on this rare, expensive nard, who knows? But when Jesus
came to dinner, Mary took that nard, poured it over Jesus' feet, and wiped them
with her hair. And the house was filled with its extraordinary and beautiful fragrance.
When Jesus' enemies heard that Jesus raised Lazarus
from the dead, they were up in arms. "If we let him go on like this,"
they said, "everyone will believe in him. And the Romans will come and
destroy us.” They were worried because
some of Jesus' followers wanted to incite a rebellion against Rome—which is not
at all what Jesus had
in mind. But that is exactly what
a lot of Jesus' supporters were hoping. And if Jesus' supporters revolted the
Romans would most certainly come and destroy the Jewish nation. So Caiaphas,
the high priest, came up with a very simple solution. Kill Jesus. Or, as
Caiaphas put it: "Better for one man to die, than for the whole nation to
people had not yet set themselves in opposition to Jesus; they weren't openly hostile
to him. They were content to observe whatever might happen. They didn't want to
be involved. They were merely observers. The
people were also fickle, one day shouting their "hosannas," but only
five days later crying, "Crucify him!" But before we point the
finger, bear in mind that in America today, there are thousands and thousands
of people who call themselves Christians, but still do not speak up for Jesus. In
America today, the gospel has often been twisted to support our opinions, our
lifestyles, or our politics. To speak up for Jesus' message of love and justice
is still very risky.
But Mary, as soon as she had the chance, broke open
the bottle, poured the nard over Jesus' feet ... “and the whole house was
filled with its fragrance.” I love those words. When she wiped the ointment off his
feet with her hair, then wherever Mary went, the fragrance was sure to go. It
would forever be a reminder of her love. Wherever she walked, when people saw
Mary, they caught a fragrance and they thought of Jesus. Where is Mary every
time we come across her? She is always at the feet of Jesus. An extravagant love, that takes Mary
from washing Jesus feet, to being at his feet on the cross, to seeing him dead
on a slab stone for anointing, to wrapping him in a burial shroud, to going to
his tomb the next dawn, wondering how she will roll away the great stone
sealing it, only to find the stone removed. There
is something very special about people who spend a lot of time at Jesus' feet. There
is no substitute for taking the time, day by day, to sit at the feet of Jesus.
It was Judas, the betrayer, who objected. "What
extravagance!" he said. "What waste!" But Jesus' reply indicates that, despite
Judas' objections, there are times when extravagance is called for. But
Judas extravagance was his own self-serving love. Ultimately, Judas sold
Jesus out for 30 pieces of silver. Whereas Mary’s ointment was worth so much
more than Judas received in his betrayal of Jesus. Judas kept the bag. Mary broke the jar. She
gave all that was precious to her. And
this moment with Mary at Jesus feet, Jesus reminds them that they will always
have the poor with them, he is reminding them, and us, of our ongoing call and
duty to serve the needs of what he calls elsewhere "the least of these my
brothers and sisters."
today I ask, “What is your most valuable possession?” It’s different for all of
us. Is it the desire to succeed? Is it your
self-image? A bank account? Family? Would you or could you give it for
Jesus? God doesn't need your most
valuable possession, but you need to give it, or at least make it serve a
greater purpose. How extravagant is your love? Is it extravagant at all, or do
you simply go through the motions? We sing the hymns. We utter the prayers. We
might listen to the preacher. But then do we love others in the way that Jesus
loved--as much as you love yourself? Remember, love expressed is not
sufficient. It isn't good enough to say "I love you" by singing hymns
and attending church. As good as those things are, love has to be heard, maybe
smelled, to have any meaning.
Such a strong perfume would have lasted a long time.
Everywhere Jesus went--as he rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, as he cleansed
the Temple, as he gathered in an Upper Room, as he appeared before Caiaphas and
Pilate, I wonder if Mary's perfume still lingered as a reminder of her great
love. And then, perhaps--just perhaps--when Jesus uttered his last words of
forgiveness and completion on the cross, he might have sensed a faint, sweet
fragrance that reminded him that he too had been greatly loved. Like Mary,
spend some time at Jesus’ feet. "I tell you the truth, wherever this
gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will be told in
memory of her." So may it be of you and all of us. AMEN!