Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent

John 12:1-8    What Do You Think About Most?

In the book of Romans, Paul makes the following statement, “People whose lives are based on selfishness think about selfish things, but people whose lives are based on the Spirit think about things that are related to the Spirit.” (Rom. 8:5 CEB)

In the book of Philippians, the Holy Spirit leads Paul to write, “From now on, brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise.” (Phil. 4:8 CEB)

In our passage today, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus are hosting a meal in honor of Jesus.   They want to honor Jesus because Jesus brought Lazarus back from the dead.  Good reason to honor someone. 

The gathering takes place at the home of Simon, a man who had a skin disease and was likely healed by Jesus.  Why at Simon’s home and not Mary, Martha, and Lazarus’s?  The account does not tell us the reason, but the most likely home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus was too small. 

Who else attended this gathering?  There is no guess list, but in Matthew and Mark the versions indicate the disciples were there. 

Our passage tells us Martha was doing what she loved to do, serving the guest and Lazarus joined the people at the table.  However, Mary, dear sweet Mary, does something unusual.   She comes in with a jar of very expensive perfume and wipes Jesus’s feet with it. 

Now, we might think this is very strange behavior.  Perfume on the feet?  I could be wrong, but today, a man might wear cologne but not many would embrace perfuming the feet.

Before we judge Mary to be just short of a full deck, we need to remember what it was like to live in that culture.  They did not have air conditioning.  They did not have electricity.  The only fans they had worked by human muscle.  There was no sewage system, clothes received washing by hand and most people could not change into new clothing every day.  Needless to say, the odor in a home, a room, could be at times unpleasant. 

Our passage tells us, “The house was filled with the aroma of the perfume.” Mary’s gift not only was an act of love to Jesus but a gift to all who were present as well.  Still, Mary’s act of love causes agitation in some.  Judas is especially upset.  In Matthew’s account, the disciple is angry.  In Mark’s account, some of the disciples are angry.  John puts his focus on Judas and then tells us why Judas is angry.  John tells us Judas was a thief.  John affirms what Paul writes, “People whose lives are based on selfishness think about selfish things, but people whose lives are based on the Spirit think about things that are related to the Spirit.”

I am sure some of the disciples heard Judas complain and some likely agreed.  Why did Jesus let this happen?  Was all Jesus’s talk about caring for the poor just a political ploy? 

Make no mistake, Jesus cares for the poor.  God cares for the poor.  God knows their plight.  God speaks to us of embracing empathy and compassion toward the poor. God is very much aware of injustice, inequality, and oppressive systems that benefit a few at the expense of many.  Jesus did not grow up in a wealthy house.  Carpenters had to work hard for low wages to survive economically.  Jesus knew what it meant to be poor.

The Psalmist writes, “Because the poor won’t be forgotten forever, the hope of those who suffer won’t be lost for all time.” (Ps. 9:18 CEB)

Proverbs tells us, “Those who exploit the powerless anger their maker, while those who are kind to the poor honor God.” (Prov. 14:31 CEB) and, “Those who close their ears to the cries of the poor will themselves call out but receive no answer.” (Prov. 21:13 CEB) Jesus himself said a key part of his mission was, “The LORD God’s spirit is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me. He has sent me to bring good news to the poor.” Which is from Isaiah 61:1.

In addition, let’s not forget what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus raised his eyes to the disciples and said: “Happy are you who are poor because God’s kingdom is yours.” (Lk. 6:20 CEB)

So this is not a situation of Jesus backtracking.  The issue is not the poor, the value of the perfume, but the action of Mary and what motivated her to do this.  Mary had been attacked before for how she responded to Jesus.  When Jesus visited Mary and Martha the first time, Martha criticized both Jesus and Mary for not worrying about dinner.   Martha came to Jesus and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to prepare the table all by myself? Tell her to help me.” The Lord answered, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things. One thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the better part. It won’t be taken away from her.” (Lk. 10:40-42 CEB)

Mary had made a discovery.  Mary had discovered that as one listens and learns from Jesus, one got closer to God.  Mary discovered putting one’s focus on loving Jesus made an incredible difference in one’s life.

So, when Judas tries to make Mary feel guilty about lavishing this expensive perfume upon Jesus, (which also made the room more pleasant for everyone else), it did not get to her because she had chosen the better part. 

In Matthew and Mark, both accounts also add the following, “I tell you the truth that wherever in the whole world this good news is announced, what she’s done will also be told in memory of her.” (Matt. 26:13 CEB)

Mary’s thoughts, her actions, her focus was on Jesus.  She grasps the importance of his life.  She craves insight into his message.  She accepted the affirmation he gave her that she had chosen the best path. Mary wanted to give Jesus her best because of the best Jesus gave to her. 

How much did that perfume cost to rub on Jesus’s feet?  Mark says three hundred denaria with a denaria being about a day’s pay.  Luke states it was 500 denaria.  John says it was worth a year’s wages.  But for Mary, the opportunity to love Jesus is priceless. For those who can imagine what it would have been like to love Jesus as Mary did. Imagine being able to look in his eyes, to feel love directed to you by the One who is Emanual, God with us. The One who is the beginning and the end. Mary was able to experience Jesus, the one, we all are seeking to know as deeply as we can.

God gives us grace, forgiveness, and hope.  Jesus gave us his life.  The Holy Spirit gives us guidance and spiritual gifts.  And what does the trinity ask from us?  We are asked to accept the love and to be restored to the person we are created to be. We are invited to an ancient dance of dancing with God.

“People whose lives are based on selfishness think about selfish things, but people whose lives are based on the Spirit think about things that are related to the Spirit.” (Rom. 8:5 CEB)

Mary was thinking and acting on a love for the Lord.  What do we spend the most time thinking about?  What is the most important commandment a person can fulfill?  Jesus replied, “The most important one is Israel, listen! Our God is the one Lord, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mk. 12:29-30 CEB)

Finally, let us follow the example of Mary as directed by the Holy Spirit, “Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is– what is good and pleasing and mature.  (Rom. 12:2 CEB)

It is time for God’s people to give ourselves over to thinking, “What can we do for our God, our Lord, who has done so much for us.” There is a group of believers in Dallas who say, “let me extend an umbrella to you.” What an umbrella of love Jesus extends to Mary.

Six days before the Passover, Jesus, therefore, came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So, they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at the table.  Mary, therefore, took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” “He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.”

Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.” (Jn. 12:1-8 ESV)

Each day, we can be like Mary. We can be like Mary when we are showing love to the least of these and thus doing then for Jesus. Each day. Maybe we can begin to think of Jesus more and more.