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JOHN 12:1-8 | POINT- COUNTERPOINT

POINT- COUNTERPOINT

JOHN 12:1-8

MARCH 13, 2016

 

 

LET ME ASK YOU IF THIS IS TRUE AT YOUR HOUSE:

 

DO YOU HAVE TOWELS AND SHEETS THAT ARE RESERVED FOR COMPANY?  YOU KNOW, LINENS THAT YOU HOLD BACK TO USE ONLY WHEN COMPANY COMES…

 

WHAT ABOUT A SET OF DISHES, PERHAPS YOUR BEST CHINA AND STEMWARE, YOUR BEST SILVER, THAT YOU HOLD BACK FOR SPECIAL OCCASIONS AND HONORED GUESTS?

 

DO YOU SAVE THE BETTER BOTTLES OF WINE FOR YOUR MORE DISCERNING GUESTS?

 

IN OUR STORY FOR THIS MORNING, MARY, THE SISTER OF MARTHA AND LAZARUS, JESUS’ BEST FRIENDS OUTSIDE OF HIS CLOSEST DISCIPLES, USES A POUND OF PURE NARD TO ANOINT JESUS’ FEET.

 

NOW THERE ARE A COUPLE OF THINGS WE NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THIS STORY, AND ONE OF THE FIRST HAS TO DO WITH THE WAY WE OFTEN READ SCRIPTURE.

 

IN THIS CASE, IT HAS TO DO WITH THE COMBINING, BLENDING, AND CONFUSING OF THIS STORY WITH SIMILAR STORIES THAT APPEAR IN OTHER GOSPELS.

 

IN THE GOSPELS OF MATTHEW AND MARK, THE WOMAN WHO ANOINTS JESUS IS AN UNNAMED WOMAN AT SIMON THE LEPER’S HOME, WHO POURS NARD ON JESUS’ HEAD;

 

AND IN THE GOSPEL OF LUKE, THE WOMAN IS SAID TO BE A SINNER, A WOMAN OF THE NIGHT, SO TO SPEAK, AND THOUGH IT DOES NOT SAY SO, IT IS SOMETIMES ASSOCIATED WITH THE WOMAN WE KNOW AS MARY MAGDALENE;

 

AND SHE DOES NOT USE NARD, BUT RATHER HER TEARS TO WASH JESUS’ FEET, DRYING THEM WITH HER HAIR.

 

BECAUSE OF THE SIMILARITIES OF THESE STORIES IT’S NOT PARTICULARLY SURPRISING THAT WE CONFUSE THEM, AND COMBINE THEM, BUT TO DO SO IS REALLY TO MISS THE POINT OF EACH OF THEIR TELLING; AND OUR STORY FOR THIS MORNING IS DIFFERENT.

 

IN JOHN’S ACCOUNT THE WOMAN HAS A NAME – MARY – AND A RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS.  SHE IS NOT A STRANGER, NOT A “SINNER”, BUT HIS LONGTIME FRIEND, WHICH MAKES HER ACT ALL THE MORE PECULIAR.

 

WE’LL GET BACK TO MARY IN A MOMENT.

 

YOU PROBABLY REMEMBER THIS FAMILY FROM THE SCRIPTURES – MARY AND MARTHA, THE TWO SISTERS, AND THEIR BROTHER LAZARUS, AS THERE ARE SEVERAL DIFFERENT STORIES ABOUT THEM IN THE NEW TESTAMENT.

 

WE REMEMBER THE TIME JESUS CAME TO EAT IN THEIR HOME IN BETHANY, ADJACENT TO JERUSALEM, AND HOW MARTHA WAS BUSY WITH MANY THINGS, GETTING EVERYTHING PREPARED FOR THE EVENING MEAL, WHILE HER SISTER MARY JUST SAT AT JESUS’ FEET, LISTENING.

 

AND WHEN MARTHA COMPLAINS TO JESUS THAT HER SISTER ISN’T HELPING, JESUS COMMENDS MARTHA FOR ALL HER HARD WORK AND BUSY-NESS, BUT GOES ON TO SAY THAT MARY HAS CHOSEN A BETTER WAY.

 

THEN THERE’S THE TIME THAT LAZARUS GOT SICK; AND MARY AND MARTHA BELIEVING THAT JESUS COULD HELP, SEND FOR HIM, BUT JESUS IS DELAYED IN GETTING THERE, AND LAZARUS DIES.

 

MARY AND MARTHA ARE BESIDE THEMSELVES THAT JESUS HAS NOT GOTTEN THERE IN TIME; BUT NOT ONLY IS JESUS ABLE TO ILLICIT FROM THEM GREAT STATEMENTS OF BELIEVE IN GOD, AND IN HIM, BUT JESUS GOES OUT AND RAISES LAZARUS FROM THE DEAD, EVEN THOUGH IT HAD ALREADY BEEN THREE DAYS SINCE THEY HAD BURIED HIM.

 

MOST OF US KNOW THIS STORY BECAUSE IT CONTAINS THE SHORTEST VERSE OF SCRIPTURE IN THE BIBLE: “JESUS WEPT” WHICH WAS JESUS’ INITIAL REACTION TO HIS FRIEND’S DEATH, EVEN THOUGH HE KNEW WHAT HE (WITH GOD’S HELP) WAS ABOUT TO DO IN RAISING LAZARUS FROM THE DEAD.

 

AND THEN THERE IS THIS STORY FROM THIS MORNING’S PASSAGE, WHICH OF COURSE, FOLLOWS THE OTHER TWO.

 

JESUS IS BACK IN BETHANY TO SEE HIS FRIENDS, PERHAPS, ONE LAST TIME, BEFORE HE HEADS INTO JERUSALEM FOR WHAT HE KNOWS IS COMING: HIS ARREST, AND ALMOST CERTAIN DEATH.

 

WHO KNOWS WHY JESUS COMES TO SEE THEM; TO SAY GOOD-BYE?  TO CATCH HIS BREATH AND SET HIS MIND ON WHAT WAS TO COME?  A LAST MEAL WITH THEM?  A FINAL WORD OF ENCOURAGEMENT?  A REASSURING HUG?

 

NOT MUCH HAS CHANGED SINCE HE LAST VISITED THEM.  MARTHA IS STILL RUNNING AROUND MAKING ALL OF THE PREPARATIONS FOR THE MEAL.

 

LAZARUS SEEMS KIND OF DAZED AND STILL FEELING THE AFTER EFFECTS OF BEING DEAD – SORT OF WANDERING AROUND AIMLESSLY;

AND MARY IS EVEN MORE DISTRACTED THAN USUAL; DISAPPEARING INTO HER ROOM, JUST AS EVERYONE IS ABOUT TO SIT DOWN (RECLINE – THEY USED TO RECLINE ON THE FLOOR) TO EAT DINNER.

 

WHEN SHE RETURNS SHE MAKES HER WAY DIRECTLY TOWARDS JESUS, AND IN HER HAND, A CLAY JAR FILLED WITH NARD, THIS COSTLY PERFUME WITH WHICH SHE IS ABOUT TO ANOINT HIM.

 

AS SHE OPENS THE JAR, THE ENTIRE ROOM IS FILLED WITH ITS FRAGRANCE.

 

AND HERE’S WHAT’S REMARKABLE ABOUT ALL OF THIS:

 

FIRST, SHE LOOSENS HER HAIR – WHICH WAS NEVER DONE IN MIXED COMPANY IN JEWISH HOUSEHOLDS;

 

THEN SHE POURS THE PERFUME ON JESUS’ FEET, ALSO NOT DONE; THE HEAD, MAYBE, BUT NOT THE FEET.

 

THEN SHE TOUCHES HIM, A SINGLE WOMAN CARESSING THE FEET OF RABBI, ALSO NOT DONE, NOT EVEN AMONG FRIENDS;

 

THEN SHE WIPES THE SALVE OFF AGAIN, WITH HER HAIR;

 

IT IS TOTALLY INEXPLICABLE, A BIZARRE END TO AN ALL AROUND BIZARRE ACT.

 

HOW MANY OF YOU REMEMBER THE SEGMENT THAT USED TO AIR AS PART OF SIXTY MINUTES – THROUGH MOST OF THE 1970’S CALLED “POINT-COUNTERPOINT”?

 

THE SEGMENT PITTED A CONSERVATIVE VOICE – JAMES J. KILPATRICK VERSUS A LIBERAL VOICE – FIRST, NICHOLAS VON HOFFMAN, AND LATER, SHANA ALEXANDER, DISCUSSING, OFTEN ARGUING, OVER SOME TOPIC OF THE DAY FROM THEIR INDIVIDUAL PERSPECTIVES.

 

THE TRUTH IS MOST OF US PROBABLY BETTER REMEMBER SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE’S TAKEOFF ON THIS SIXTY MINUTES SEGMENT PITTING DAN AYKROYD AGAINST JANE CURTIN.

 

WELL, IN OUR STORY FOR THIS MORNING, WE ARE ABOUT TO SEE POINT – COUNTERPOINT, NOT IN THE SENSE OF A CONSERVATIVE VERSUS A LIBERAL, BUT IN MARY VERSUS JUDAS ISCARIOT.

 

WHEN JUDAS WITNESSES WHAT MARY HAS DONE, HE IS INCREDULOUS:

 

“WHY WAS THIS PERFUME NOT SOLD FOR THREE HUNDRED DENARII AND THE MONEY GIVEN TO THE POOR?”

 

JUST TO GIVE YOU A BIT OF PERSPECTIVE, THREE HUNDRED DENARII WOULD HAVE BEEN MORE THAN THE AVERAGE FAMILY MADE IN AN ENTIRE YEAR BACK THEN, SO WE’RE TALKING ABOUT FEEDING AN ENTIRE FAMILY FOR A YEAR ON WHAT THIS ONE JAR OF PERFUME COST.

 

THE AUTHOR OF THE GOSPEL OF JOHN IN AN EDITORIAL COMMENT HERE, TELLS US THAT JUDAS DIDN’T REALLY MEAN WHAT HE SAID ABOUT THE POOR, GIVEN THE FACT THAT JUDAS WAS THE ONE WHO WOULD BETRAY JESUS;

 

AND BECAUSE HE HAD BEEN THE GROUP’S TREASURER, OFTEN STEALING FROM THE COMMON PURSE THAT HE KEPT FOR ALL OF THEM.

 

“LEAVE HER ALONE,” JESUS SAYS, BRUSHING JUDAS’ OBJECTIONS ASIDE.  “YOU WILL ALWAYS HAVE THE POOR WITH YOU, BUT YOU WILL NOT ALWAYS HAVE ME.”

 

NOW THAT IS A STRANGE THING TO SAY, ESPECIALLY FOR JESUS, WHO HAD BEEN A CHAMPION OF THE POOR; WHO WAS ALWAYS PUTTING THE NEEDS OF OTHERS AHEAD OF HIS OWN NEEDS; (HE STILL DOES, BY THE WAY).

 

“LEAVE HER ALONE,” JESUS SAYS; “LEAVE ME ALONE.”  YOU WILL HAVE THE POOR TO LOOK AFTER UNTIL THE END OF TIME.  JUST THIS ONCE, LET HER LOOK AFTER ME, BECAUSE TIME IS RUNNING OUT, HE SEEMS TO BE SAYING.

 

AND HEREIN LIES THE SECRET THAT JESUS AND MARY AND GOD SHARED.  HERE’S MARY’S POINT TO JUDAS’ COUNTERPOINT.

HERE’S WHAT JESUS, AND MARY, UNDERSTOOD WAS GOING ON.

 

THIS CLAY FLASK OF NARD, WAS IT SOMETHING MARY HAD BEEN SAVING FOR A SPECIAL OCCASION?  AN HONORED GUEST?  FOR COMPANY?  FOR JESUS?

 

OR HAD IT BEEN LEFT OVER FROM HER BROTHER’S ALMOST FUNERAL – AFTER ALL, HE HAD BEEN DEAD THREE DAYS; HAD MARY BOUGHT IT FOR LAZARUS’ BURIAL WHICH WAS THEN MADE UNNECESSARY WHEN JESUS RAISED HIM FROM THE DEAD?

 

OUT IN THE YARD THERE WAS A FRESHLY VACATED TOMB, JUST WAITING FOR A NEW OCCUPANT.

 

EITHER WAY, MARY KNEW WHAT SHE MUST NOW DO; SHE MUST ANOINT JESUS, BUT RATHER THAN POURING THIS COSTLY PERFUME ON JESUS’ HEAD, WHICH WHILE EXTRAVAGANT, WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN COMPLETELY OUT OF THE ORDINARY;

HONORED GUESTS, SPECIAL PEOPLE, PEOPLE IN POWER AND POSITION WERE OFTEN ANOINTED ON THE HEAD AS A SIGN OF HONOR AND RESPECT…

 

BUT ON THE FEET?

 

THE ONLY MAN WHO GOT HIS FEET ANOINTED WAS A DEAD MAN, AND JESUS KNEW IT; AND MARY KNEW IT; “LEAVE HER ALONE,” HE SAID TO THOSE WHO WOULD HAVE PREVENTED HER FROM DOING IT.  “LEAVE HER ALONE.”

 

JESUS WAS A DEAD MAN WALKING, HE KNEW IT, AND EVIDENTLY, SO DID MARY, THIS WOMAN WHO HAD SPENT SO MUCH OF HER TIME, SITTING AT HIS FEET, LISTENING TO HIS WORDS; BELIEVING HIS MESSAGE; BELIEVING IN HIM.

 

MARY’S ACT WAS AN ACT OF PROPHECY, OF KNOWING WHAT WAS COMING FOR JESUS, AND BY HER ACT, SHE WAS SENDING A MESSAGE AS WELL:

 

YES, ABOUT HIS IMPENDING DEATH, BUT ALSO ABOUT HOW THIS KING (NOT ON THE HEAD BUT ON THE FEET) WOULD DIE A SERVANT’S DEATH, GIVING HIMSELF UP FOR THE SINS OF THE WORLD.

 

IT’S NOT UNCOMMON, OF COURSE, FOR PROPHETS TO USE VISUAL AIDS IN GETTING THEIR MESSAGE ACROSS.

 

THE PROPHET JEREMIAH HAD ONCE WALKED AROUND TOWN WEARING AN OXEN YOKE SO AS TO DEMONSTRATE THE YOKE OF OPPRESSION THAT WAS ABOUT TO COME THEIR WAY, UNLESS THEY RETURNED TO GOD.

 

EZEKIEL ONCE ATE A SCROLL TO SHOW HOW GOD’S WORD WAS TO BE CARRIED AROUND INSIDE OF US, COMMENTING THAT THE WORD OF GOD WAS SWEETER THAN HONEY;

 

AND ISAIAH ONCE TRAPESED AROUND NAKED AND BAREFOOTED AS AN ORACLE AGAINST THE NATIONS AS TO HOW THEY WOULD WIND UP IF THEY CONTINUED TO LIVE WITHOUT GOD IN THEIR LIFE.

 

PROPHETS WEREN’T ABOVE MAKING A SPECTACLE OF THEMSELVES FOR GOD’S SAKE, AND FOR THE SAKE OF THE PEOPLE AS WELL, AND MARY THE PROPHET WAS NO DIFFERENT.

 

SHE WAS PROCLAIMING THE SERVANT KING WHO WOULD DIE FOR THE SINS OF THE WORLD.

 

SHE WAS, IF YOU WILL, “PRE-ENACTING” WHAT WAS ABOUT TO HAPPEN: CHRIST POURING OUT HIS LIFE FOR THE SAKE OF MANY, FOR THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS.

 

MARY GOT GOD’S MESSAGE AND ACTED ON IT.

WHILE THOSE AROUND HER MAY HAVE THOUGHT HER MAD, OR SMITTEN, OR (GOD FORBID) WASTEFUL, SHE KNEW WHAT SHE WAS DOING; AND SO DID JESUS;

 

SHE WAS PREPARING HIS BODY FOR DEATH.

 

AT THE EMPTY TOMB ON EASTER MORNING A WHOLE BUNCH OF WOMEN GO TO JESUS’ TOMB TO PREPARE HIS BODY FOR BURIAL, ONLY TO FIND HIM GONE.

 

SOME OF THEM ARE NAMED MARY.  SOME OF THE GOSPELS IDENTIFY ONE OF THE MARY’S AS MARY MAGDALENE; OTHERS, MARY, THE MOTHER OF JAMES (JESUS’ BROTHER’S NAME – SO JESUS’ MOTHER; AND STILL OTHER GOSPELS REFER TO THE “OTHER” MARY; OR JUST TO THE WOMEN IN GENERAL.

 

WHO KNOWS IF THE MARY IN THIS STORY WAS ONE OF THOSE MARY’S ON EASTER MORNING, BUT EITHER WAY, SHE HAD ALREADY ANOINTED HIM AHEAD OF HIS DEATH AND BURIAL.

 

USUALLY IN MY SERMONS I TRY TO TAKE THE BIBLICAL STORY FOR THE DAY AND APPLY IT DIRECTLY TO OUR LIVES; WHAT THE STORY SAYS TO US ABOUT OUR FAITH AND LIVES;

 

HOW WE CAN APPLY ITS TEACHINGS TO US AND TO OUR WORLD; WHAT EXAMPLES WE MIGHT EMULATE; WHAT THE ‘MORAL OF THE STORY’ IS FOR US.

 

BUT THIS STORY IS PRETTY MUCH JUST ABOUT MARY, AND JESUS, AND MAYBE A LITTLE ABOUT JUDAS’ COUNTERPOINT TO THE STORY.

 

O, WE COULD REMIND OURSELVES, AS JESUS REMINDED US, THAT “THE POOR WE WILL HAVE WITH US ALWAYS,” AND REMEMBER OUR CALLING TO CARE FOR THEM AS HE DID.

 

OR WE COULD REMEMBER, AS SCRIPTURE SAYS ELSEWHERE, HOW “WHILE WE WERE YET SINNERS, CHRIST DIED FOR US, CHRIST ROSE FOR US, CHRIST REIGNS IN POWER FOR US…” – “WHILE WERE YET SINNERS…”

 

OR WE COULD TAKE FROM THIS, FROM MARY’S ACT AND JESUS’ RESPONSE, HOW, WHERE GOD IS CONCERNED, THERE’S NEVER A FEAR OF RUNNING OUT OF ANYTHING; OF RUNNING OUT OF NARD, OR EVEN OF LIFE ITSELF;

 

THAT THERE’S ALWAYS MORE; AGAIN, AS SCRIPTURE SAYS, “MORE THAN WE CAN EITHER ASK OR IMAGINE.”

 

BUT MAYBE THE BEST THING FOR US TO DO IS JUST TO SEE WHAT MARY DID FOR JESUS THAT DAY, AND LOVE HER FOR IT, AS HE LOVED HER, AND SHE HIM;

 

AND JUST LEAVE IT AT THAT.

 

 

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Pastor Daniel writes and posts a weekly newsletter that keeps members and friends of the congregation up-to-date. His earlier newsletters are also online, so if you missed something, check those past editions.

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