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Year C Lent 5 : 28/3/04 John 12:1-8
12 1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at 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 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." 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, but you will not always have me."
A mother went shopping for groceries. While she was in the store, a fire engine raced by. She wondered, "Is the fire engine going to my home?" She had left her baby asleep at home. Forgetting about the groceries, she ran toward home. Her building had fire hoses aimed at it. It was burning like a matchbox. Rushing to the chief, she cried out, "My baby is up there." He shouted back to her, "It would be suicide for anyone to go up there now; it's too late."
A young fireman standing by volunteered, "Chief, I have a little baby at home, and if my house were on fire, I'd want someone to go up to save my baby. I'll go." The young fireman climbed the stairs; he got the baby, threw her into the rescue net, and just as he did, the house collapsed and he was burned to death.
20 years later at a graveside a 20-year-old woman is sobbing softly. Before her, at the head of this grave, is the statue of a fireman. A man stopping by asks respectfully, "Was that your father?" She replies, "No." "Was that your brother?" "No," she says. "That's the man who died for me."
Imagine that you were the mother of that baby when she was rescued. What would your attitude be to the person who had saved her?
Thankfulness, sorrow that the fireman had died, perhaps even expressing this to the family he left, even giving practical support to them.
Mary and Martha were sisters of Lazarus whom Jesus had raised from death. This dinner was their way of thanking Jesus. This was not the first time that Jesus had been to their home for a meal, Luke 10:38-40. Like the incident recorded in Luke 10, Martha concentrates on the practical, Mary on the spiritual.
The raising of Lazarus had led to jealousy and fear from the religious leaders. They feared that Jesus would stir things up and threaten their comfortable position with the Roman authorities. So they planned to kill Jesus. He hid from them and it appears that Lazarus also withdrew from public life because of the public interest.
This was the third and final Passover mentioned by John. Everyone would travel to Jerusalem to celebrate it
Spices and ointments were quite costly because they had to be imported. Frequently they were used as an investment because they occupied a small space, were portable, and were easily negotiable in the open market. Mary's offering was valued at three hundred denarii approximately a year's wages for an ordinary workingman. Perhaps it represented her life savings. She presented it as an offering of love and gratitude, prompted by Jesus' restoration of her brother to life and to the family. Wiping his feet with her hair was a gesture of humility, utmost devotion and reverence. The penetrative fragrance of the ointment that filled the house told all present of her sacrificial gift.
Guests usually reclined on divans with their heads near the table. They leaned on cushions with one arm and ate with the other. Their feet would project at the end of the divan away from the table. This made it possible for Mary to wipe Jesus' feet with her hair without disturbing him unduly. Her act was extravagant, loving, caring, humble, and bold, regardless of how this looked to people there who knew her.
It contrasts to the mean, self-centred attitude of Judas Iscariot. He had been mentioned previously in a parenthetical statement appended to Jesus' comment on Simon Peter's confession of faith: "Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil" (6:70). Jesus knew Judas's tendencies and was well aware of his coming defection. Whereas many of Jesus' disciples deserted him (6:66), Judas remained to see what material gain he could make by being a disciple and, when Jesus disappointed him, to betray him. This episode was the final thing that resulted in Judas decision to betray Jesus.
5 "Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year's wages." Of course, Judas had no genuine concern for the poor. He had been appointed treasurer of the band of disciples; and, according to John, Judas used his office for his own enrichment. His protests over the gift of the ointment revealed that he had a sharp sense of financial worth and no appreciation of human values. Pouring the ointment on Jesus seemed to him an economic waste. Mary, on the contrary, was willing to give a material expression of her appreciation of him.
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, but you will not always have me."
Jesus' reply revealed his appreciation of Mary's act of devotion and the understanding it denoted. His words also disclose his thoughts, for he was anticipating his own death. His comment on the poor was not a justification for tolerating unnecessary poverty; but it was a hint to Judas that if he were really concerned about the poor, he would never lack opportunity to aid them.
We might address two dangers associated with Judas' comment. One is that some people may concentrate so much on social action that it is at the expense of worship and adoration. The other is that self-righteous belief or religious duty extinguishes real compassion.
Martha, Mary, and Lazarus risked all they had to honour Jesus and to demonstrate their loyalty in the face of approaching danger and death. It is unlikely that Mary knew Jesus would die soon, but Jesus uses her act to point to his death and the perfume that would be sprinkled on his body by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, 19:38ff.
Scottish minister Alexander Whyte was known for his uplifting prayers in the pulpit. He always found something for which to be grateful. One Sunday morning the weather was so gloomy that one church member thought to himself, "Certainly the preacher won't think of anything for which to thank the Lord on a wretched day like this." Much to his surprise, however, Whyte began by praying, "We thank Thee, O God, that it is not always like this."
The contrast of the attitude of Mary with that of Judas is unmistakable. Mary offered her best to Jesus in sacrificial love; Judas was coldly functional. Jesus interested him only as a ladder for his ambitions.
I would like us to return to the illustration I started the sermon with.
How grateful would you be if someone had saved your life in a similar way?
How grateful are you that Jesus shed his blood for you so that you can enjoy life in all its fullness, as Jesus said ( 10:10 )? A life lived in a right relationship with God that will last forever, a life of peace, free from the effects of sin and the fear of death.
A couple, visiting in Korea, saw a father and his son working in a rice paddy. The old man guided the heavy plough as the boy pulled it.
"I guess they must be very poor," the man said to the missionary who was the couple's guide and interpreter.
"Yes," replied the missionary. "That's the family of Chi Nevi. When the church was built, they were eager to give something to it, but they had no money. So they sold their ox and gave the money to the church. This spring they are pulling the plough themselves."
After a long silence, the woman said, "That was a real sacrifice."
The missionary responded, "They do not call it a sacrifice. They are just thankful they had an ox to sell."
We need another £7,000 to balance our budget for this calendar year. The longer that we leave it to do anything about it, the more we have to find each week until the end of the year. It might be helpful if we could reclaim the tax or more people using 'Gift Aid', as well as inviting people to reconsider their financial commitment to the church.
God may not be calling us all to give extravagantly like Mary and like the Chi Nevi. However, as you will probably know, we do need people to serve on the P.C.C., Deanery Synod, and we need an additional Deputy Warden and a P.C.C. Secretary.
It would be good if everyone here could come to the Annual Meetings this evening. It will give us the opportunity to reflect on the last year, elect people to the positions I mentioned, and to commit ourselves to God and one another for the next year and to pray for those God has called to positions of responsibility within this church.
2/4/00 10.45 a.m. Mothering Sunday Sermon
12 1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at 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 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." 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, but you will not always have me."
What are the things that we expect our mothers to do ? Ask children. prepare & cook food; wash clothes; iron; wash up; clean home.
What things do we not expect our mothers to do ? wire a plug ? clean the spark plugs on a car ? plumb in a washing machine ?
Go off to Alton Towers on her own for a day ?
Today we will look at two women. One did what was expected of her. The other one shocked the people around her.
Martha and Mary were sisters of Lazarus whom Jesus had recently raised from the dead. Martha showed her gratitude to Jesus by hosting this meal, even though it was dangerous because the Jewish authorities were jealous of Jesus. She did the kind of things that we may expect of mothers. Prepared and cooked food, served it to the guests who were reclining at the table, and washed up afterwards. She was just as important to Jesus as her sister Mary. It is a reminder to us today that we should not measure the value of someone by what they do or earn.
We have just seen some women from Ethiopia. Women make up half of the world's population, work two thirds of the world's hours, and earn one tenth of the world's income. On Wednesday we will be watching a video showing how hard some of these women work and how Tearfund, in partnership with local churches, are helping them. Everyone is welcome to come and see this video, even if you have not come to any of the other Lent meetings.
We are more than what we earn. This is true of women based at home, perhaps looking after children. It is vitally important that children receive love and attention as they grow up. It is the greatest investment a parent can make. We are more than what we earn... This is also true of those who are unemployed or retired.
I have seen a television trailer about a man who has won the Lottery but is ill, and would swop his money for a cure. It makes us think, 'What is really important ?' doesn't it ?
Martha filled the air with the smell of her cooking. Mary filled the air with the smell of nard, a costly mixture of imported spices and ointments. It may have been bought as an investment being small and valuable. It was often poured over dead bodies to counteract their smell. Her act contrasted with the meanness of Judas Iscariot.
Martha showed her gratitude to Jesus by serving a meal to honour him. Mary honoured Jesus by pouring this expensive perfume onto Jesus' feet and wiping them with her hair. She showed humility in using her hair to wipe his feet. Later that week the disciples wouldn't think about wiping Jesus' feet with a towel !
She showed love, devotion and reverence for Jesus in this extravagant act. Yet when you try and put a price on a life of someone, such as your brother, you realise what is important, and the act no longer seems extravagant.
Today, let us thank God for his gift of mothers and all the usual things that they do for us. Things that we often take for granted.
Let us also thank God for the times when they do something unexpected for us. Maybe to give us a surprise gift or our favourite meal when we were not expecting it.
May Mary's extravagant devotion towards Jesus be an example to every one of us today and remind us of his priceless gift to us..