Fifth Sunday in Lent 7 April 2019
(Isaiah 43:16-21 Psalm 126 Philippians 3:4-14 John 12:1-8)
“Creating Room for Redemption!”
I’ve done some pretty foolish things in my life. Like the time I was at the beach and went out to get a newspaper early in the morning. I left the car running when I ran into the convenience store only to find the car door locked when I came out. I had to walk nearly a mile to find a policeman and because I was not parked in his jurisdiction, I paid him $25 to get my car open.
Or with my first car when I was in college. I didn’t have money to buy a new battery so most often I had to start it by pushing it down a slight hill, jumping in quickly and jumping the gears from third into first in order for the engine to start; well, one day I didn’t quite jump quick enough and the car got away from me. Lucky for me at the bottom of the incline was a curb that slowed the car before it hit the row of bushes. But more lucky for me, there was no one at the top of the hill with an iphone making a video of the whole college-student shenanigan.
So here I am confessing these things many years later. I definitely could take more than one mulligan for some of the foolish things I did at a younger age, but I am really thankful to the social media gods for waiting until I was an adult before working their magic with things like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, SnapChat, and whatever else is lurking in our future. Growing up is hard enough without the entire world seeing and commenting on every foolish choice we make in our lives.
Let’s face it, we—kids and adults alike—all do foolish things. But in our social media-heavy, attention-hungry, Smartphone-dependent world, the stakes are infinitely higher. Apologies, regrets and proportional punishment are too often not enough. Nearly everything we do is now available for public consumption, and we hold that power right in the palm of our hands. Too often that power is used to shame each other over and over again for foolish decisions we all make.
So I try to understand why people are driven to punish each other in public. I suspect a lot of people resort to public shaming out of anger and frustration, the desire to call out certain behaviors, and the need to feel validated for what they believe.
Now I am thinking of shaming in light of the Gospel reading for today. I’m pretty sure that shaming was not the reason for John to include this story in his Gospel, but put yourself at that dinner, at the table and tell me what you hear when Judas begins to reprimand Mary for what she is doing.
Let’s go to the story for a minute. Six days before Passover Jesus stops to see His good friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus before he enters Jerusalem for the last time. It wasn’t too long before this when Jesus had been there and raised his good friend back to life.
Today Jesus is back in their home in Bethany, this time for a dinner they are giving for Him. His three good friends are there, and it seems as if his disciples are with Him, also.
From the previous chapter, we know that the temple police are hot on his trail. After all, Jesus has pretty much been a nusence all along, but when He raised Lazarus from the dead, lots more people started following after Him; and now with Passover less than a week away,something has to be done with this upstart, rabble-rousing, miracle-worker King of the Jews. So I think Jesus knows His days are numbered, but he wants to be with his friends.
We realize Mary of Bethany is totally attentive to Jesus in this time of crisis. Mary comes to the center of the room with a clay jar in her hands. She kneels at Jesus’ feet, breaks open the jar and the fragrance totally envelopes the house. And then she does four things, which an honorable woman would not do in public: 1,) loosens her hair in a room full of men; 2.) pours perfume; 3.) rubs Jesus’ feet; 3.) wipes the perfumes off with her hair.
From our 2000 year vantage point, we too often easily incorporate this story into our nicely sedated understanding of faith. Let’s not do that today. The fact is: what Mary did was bizarre, over-the-top conduct. This is excessive and foolish, as Judas is quick to remind the people in the room. But truth be told, this narrative is classic Mary of Bethany with Jesus: offering the very best she has, shutting out others in the room, concentrating fully, and offering healing to one whose body will soon be bruised and cast aside.
Commentators all remind us that this entire story points to Jesus’ death. Everyone in the room knew that the only person who got their feet anointed was a dead person. So, yes, Mary used this precious ointment that could have fed a poor family for a year—a foolish action to those who were watching. But, if in John’s Gospel, everything we see has a deeper meaning, then we can’t get stuck at the very place where Judas gets stuck. If in this text, Mary’s anointing points us toward Jesus’ death, then this story is, in fact, a story about the excessiveness of God’s mercy and the extravagance of God’s love made real in His dying.
If Lent, and Holy Week, Good Friday and Easter Sunday are to inspire us to want to learn how to love more deeply, then this is the challenge we hear today: how to love intimately and how to love together; how to truly allow love to be our motivator, not just when we are with like-minded friends, but just as importantly, when we see someone do something we consider foolish.
Love is the superstar virtue of virtues, but it is also the most watered down. Too often for us, love loses its audacity to cross the boundaries and lines we create.
The great love story that today’s Gospel points us toward these next two weeks challenges our every interaction and our every encounter with each other, and in the very midst of our brokenness, showing us how to create room for redemption.
The love we witness in Jesus’ death is the call never to abuse the divine spark found in every fellow human being. Today let us allow this Gospel story to remind us, encourage us, and prepare us for the abundant possibility of God’s love to reshape the very core our being, most especially in the midst of the challenges of our highly-charged culture and at the very same time, the reality of our fragile, fractured and gifted lives. This is salvation! This is God’s love working in our lives. Amen.