Seward United Methodist Church
Monday, July 16, 2018
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Love and Discipleship

John 12:1-8

 Time is growing short for Jesus.  It is only a few days before the crucifixion.  Jesus is in Bethany, a small village, about a mile east of Jerusalem, on the other side of the Mt. of Olives.  This is the hometown of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha, who are all mentioned in this passage, but we learn from the Gospel of Mark that this banquet is in the home of a man named Simon, known as the Leper.  Presumably, he is someone Jesus has healed, since I’m pretty sure he no longer has leprosy if everyone is hanging out at his place.

 Jesus is the guest of honor at this banquet.  Normal meals were eaten while sitting down, but special meals, banquets, religious feasts, and such, were eaten while reclining on a couch, with one’s head near the table and their feet away from it.  That would explain how Mary could wash Jesus’ feet while he is at the table.  Rabbis were often invited to be guests of honor at such banquets so that they could teach the guests after the meal was eaten.

 Lazarus is sitting with Jesus, and Martha is serving.  It might seem a little strange that Martha is serving if this is not her home.  But it really isn’t that strange.  For one thing, in that cultural context, women would not normally sit to eat at a banquet with men.  Plus, it would not have been unusual for neighbors and friends to help with a banquet.  

 While they are eating, Mary comes and anoints Jesus’ feet with a bottle of perfume called nard.  Nard was made from the roots of a tree that grew in India or Yemen, and it was very expensive.  We are told that it was valued at a year’s wages for a common laborer, 300 denarii.  

 Perfumes were quite common in first century Judea.  Since water was often a scarce resource, people did not bathe daily, or even weekly.  Especially at a social occasion, when a number of people were crowded into a small home, perfumes were used.  It was normal for the host to anoint the head of each guest as they entered with a drop of perfume.  

 Anointing was also done in other contexts.  Priests and kings were anointed for their service.  Most people were anointed for burial, except for criminals and the poor who could not afford it.  Both of these are appropriate for Jesus.  He is a priest, about to offer the sacrifice of himself.  He is also a king, about to ascend to his throne.  And he is

about to die a poor criminal’s death, though we do know that he was also anointed for burial by Joseph of Arimathea.  

 We have to wonder:  Does Mary know what is about to happen?  Perhaps she does!  We know she was a good listener.  Perhaps she is better able to hear what Jesus is saying and not just what she wants to hear, as appears to be the case with many of his other followers.

 Her actions would raise eyebrows.  First of all, it was out of the ordinary for a woman to let her hair down.  A woman was seen as “unchaste” if she let her hair down.  And it also raises eyebrows that rather than putting a drop of this expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet, she pours out the whole bottle.  The great value of this gift strikes some as inappropriate.

 Why did she do it?  Because Jesus has done the most marvelous thing for her.  He has given her back her brother Lazarus from the dead.  How could she put a price tag on that?  What is the value of a human life?  

 We live in a world that devalues human life.  We live in a world that has a materialist mindset.  The driving force of many is to gain more and more wealth, regardless of the human cost.  

 We see it in slavery.  We might think of slavery as a thing of the past, but it is most certainly not.  I’ve heard it said that there are more slaves in the world today than at any time in world history, an estimated 20-35 million of them, including more than 50,000 in the USA.  Part of the reason is that the cost of a slave is lower now than at any other time in history.  An average slave today costs only about $100, less than 1% of what they cost in the American South before the Civil War.  

 Several years ago, there was a lot of media attention paid to “conflict diamonds.”  Many of the diamonds on the world market come from regions of Africa where they are controlled by warlords who use brutal means to force labor.  All so rich Westerners can have a sparkly rock.  The same principle exists in organized crime, the drug trade, and gang turf wars:  Human life is expendable in the pursuit of money.

 I would argue the same principle is also at work in abortion.  Most of the abortions done in America are a matter of convenience.  It’s expensive to have a baby.  So a baby is sacrificed for the sake of material comfort.  

 The world does not value human life.  The world values wealth, pleasure, and power.

 The act of sacrifice is a way of opposing that world order.  That’s what Mary is doing; she is sacrificing this thing.  When we sacrifice something to God, then we are saying that thing is not ultimate; it is not the driving force in our lives.  Sacrifice is a way of saying, “God is greater than things.”  

 Mary’s sacrifice is made all the more significant because it stands in such stark contrast to Judas.  Judas, who declares that “it should have been sold and the money given to the poor.”  

 Now, let’s pause for a moment:  Does Jesus not care about the poor?  That’s certainly not the impression we get from the rest of his ministry!  Certainly he does care about them.  He quotes from Deuteronomy 15:11, which states, “There will always be some poor among you.  That is why I command you to share freely with the poor.”  

 But that could be done at any time.  And the time to do something beautiful for Jesus while he was in the flesh was growing very short.  We never know how much time we have to do good for each other.  So if God puts it into your heart to do something beautiful for another person, do it quickly.  You may not have another chance.

 And, of course, we learn that the real reason Judas wanted it sold is because he was a thief, helping himself to the shared funds of Jesus and the disciples.  

 If you think about it, that is a very sad story.  Judas must have loved Jesus enough at some point to leave everything behind and follow him.  But now he is living a lie, pretending to be a follower of Jesus, but really only serving himself.  His love for Jesus has grown cold, so cold he is willing to sell Jesus to death for a mere 30 pieces of silver.  

 Judas must have been trusted at some point by Jesus and the disciples to be given the responsibility of managing their funds.  But the lure of wealth has caught him.  He must have also had some gift, some ability for managing money.  And Satan used that gift to entice him into sin.  And that’s how it is.  Whatever gifts we have can be used for good or evil.  And Satan will entice us to use them for selfish gain.

 It is sad that he is incapable of seeing the goodness and beauty of Mary’s actions.  He cannot appreciate goodness anymore, because his mind has been seduced by sin.  

 Paul warned Timothy that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.”  Now that is a verse of Scripture that is often misquoted and misunderstood.  A couple months ago, I saw something on Facebook that asked, “If money is the root of all evil, then why are churches always asking for it?”  

 Money, itself, is value-neutral.  It is neither good nor bad.  It’s all about how it is seen and used.  But the love of money is not value neutral.  The love of money is a root of many kinds of evil.  And the world socio-economic-political system is largely built around the love of money, as well as power and pleasure.  And that system is doomed.  We’ve been talking about that a lot in the Revelation Bible study.  When Revelation talks about Babylon, it doesn’t mean a city in ancient Iraq.  It means the way of the world, the world system that values things above people and God.  And Babylon is doomed.  It will be judged by God, and so will all those who belong to Babylon.

 But just as we see the worst of humanity in this passage in the person of Judas, we also see the best of humanity in Mary.  

 Her love for Jesus is extravagant.  She gives all she has, and she only regrets that she does not have more to give.  She is humble, and not the least bit self-conscious of what others will think of her.  

 She models for all of us love for God, self-denial, and humble service to others.  In the very next chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus encourages her example when he washes the feet of the disciples and commands them to do likewise.  

 In Philippians, which we heard earlier, Paul writes about how he realized late in the game that the things that he once counted as so valuable were, in fact, found to be worthless compared to the value of knowing and serving Jesus.  But at least he realized it.  I said that Judas was a sad story, and he is.  But it’s just as sad whenever a person comes to the end of their earthly life, looks back, and realizes that they have spent their life chasing things that are worthless.  

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