February 18, 2018
Can you believe we are already into another season of Lent? The years just keep going faster and faster; just like my mama said. When I was a kid, Lent meant giving up something we liked. It was more of a Catholic thing but has picked up some steam in Protestant circles too. It draws its inspiration from the forty days of temptation in the wilderness that Jesus went through right after his baptism. Our reading in Mark gave it just one sentence, “He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.” Luke on the other hand gives much more detail with 13 verses about the specific temptations. Lent was a time to consider how we handle temptations that come our way. Giving up something we like forced us to battle temptation.
Now, I think Lent should be more about what we do, not what we don't do or eat. And what we are to do is to focus even more on Jesus. If giving up something for Lent helps you focus, by all means do it. I am trying to add a focus on scripture, and so my sermons in Lent this year will focus on certain events recorded in the gospels occurring in the last week in the life of Jesus.
Each Sunday a different event or person that was a part of those last 7 days in the life of Jesus will be the main subject.
Today we look at the anointing of Jesus. We are told in John that this took place 6 days before the Passover. Mark and Matthew also have accounts of this event. Listen to the event as Mark tells it in his 14th chapter: 3 While Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. 4 But some were there who said to one another in anger, “Why was the ointment wasted in this way? 5 For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.” And they scolded her. 6 But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. 7 For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. 8 She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. 9 Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”
Let's start at the beginning, who is Simon the Leper? We aren't really told and this is the only time he is named in the gospels. But I think we can make some logical inferences. For one thing, he is most certainly no longer a leper. Anyone with that contagious disease could not even associate with people yet alone host a dinner party. And if he is no longer a leper, and he has invited Jesus to supper, can't we conclude that Jesus healed him? We have several accounts of Jesus healing men infected with leprosy. Could Simon be the one leper out of ten who returned to thank Jesus for healing him? Jesus healed a leper after coming down from his sermon on the mount, could this be him? Or was he just one of the faceless, nameless people Jesus healed in his time on earth? We don't know. But we know he invited Jesus and his disciples for dinner. And we can be sure that Simon was showing his gratefulness for what Jesus had done for him. More than healing his body, he gave him his life back. His daughter could once again walk with her daddy, hand in hand. His wife could give and receive a kiss. And rather than spending lonely hours exiled from the world, Simon could host a dinner party for his friends, and his Savior.
John, in his account, tells us specifically that this was also the city where Lazarus lived. Its not much of a stretch to imagine that Lazarus was there; and that his type A sister Martha would have been busy helping in the kitchen while Mary hung out in the dining room. Allow me to share the way Bishop Fulton Sheen describes the table in his book, Life of Christ; “Recumbant at table, the Master sat among his Apostles and a number of others: John and James who had but recently sought first places (in the kingdom), Peter the Rock, who would have a Divine, but not a suffering Christ... Judas, the treasurer of apostolic funds.... Lazarus, so recently risen from the dead by the power of him who called himself 'the Resurrection'; Martha, still serving and bent on hospitable cares, and Mary, the repentant sinner.”
Simon, the let's say ex-leper, opened his home to these people. He provided them with a good meal, which they didn't get every day. And perhaps the remembrance of this meal and fellowship was a source of comfort and strength when, a week later, Jesus carried his own cross up the hill to be crucified. This act of love from Simon was a gift to Jesus; small in comparison to what Jesus had given him—but isn't that true of every gift we give to God. What is there that compares to the gift of life that we have through faith? We give our offerings—truly a pittance in comparison to what Jesus has done. We serve the church, but never to the degree that Jesus served. And yet, we give and we serve with the same hope that we see in this meal at an ex-leper's house; that our small gift can be a source of encouragement. Not for just Jesus, but for those Jesus loves... For each other here this morning. For those who don't know the fellowship we know yet. For those who are in great need that we can help. Some theologians tell us that God doesn't have emotions like we have, God isn't pleased or displeased with our actions. I don't believe that. We are created in God's image. When we complete an act of service, give a gift of love, when we do it from a heart motivated like Simon's, motivated by love and thankfulness—I believe God is pleased. As I believe Jesus was pleased to receive that meal and fellowship in the house of Simon.
But there was another gift given that evening. A gift that, while given out of pure love, brought division into that gathering. Mary. Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha. Imagine the joy in her heart. Max Lucado wrote of this in And the Angels Were Silent, again I quote, “When she saw the three together, she couldn't resist. Simon, the healed leper, head thrown back in laughter. Lazarus, the resurrected corpse, leaning in to see what Jesus has said. And Jesus, the source of life for both. 'Now is the right time' she told herself. It wasn't an act of impulse. She'd carried the large vial of perfume from her house to Simon's. It wasn't a spontaneous gesture. But it was an extravagant one. The perfume was worth a year's wages. It wasn't the logical thing to do, but since when has love been lead by logic?”
I often think of this act as spur of the moment. It wasn't, but she did look for a moment that was right for her and Jesus. It was a beautiful act. A generous act. A loving act. And a big waste of money! That was the reaction she got from her friends gathered around the table. Mark says, “ But some were there who said to one another in anger, “Why was the ointment wasted in this way? 5 For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.” And they scolded her.” John tells us that it was Judas who first accused her of waste. But it is clear that the room had turned against her.
How would you feel about this? I am a practical man. I am prudent with my money. I like to say I am judicious with how money is used. Yes, some might even call me cheap. But if I had been at that supper, I am quite sure I would have been with Judas on this one. Probably not a good thing for a pastor to say. But I am not one to go for extravagant, expensive, transient gifts. Just ask Julie!
But what did Jesus do? Immediately...Mark's favorite time frame though he doesn't use the term here. But Jesus immediately comes to Mary's defense. “6 “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.” (NIV) Jesus tells those guests, and by inference tells us...tells me, there is a time for extravagant acts of love. Acts of love for family, for the church, for neighbors, for strangers. There is a time to act; and it is best to not put it off. Mary saw the time and seized the opportunity. And as Jesus pointed out, it was more than a gift of thanks, it was anointing his body for burial. There wouldn't be time on Good Friday to anoint his body. Mary, unknowingly, anointed him for burial in advance. But there was another gift in this act. Consider the scent of that expensive perfume. It flowed over his shoulders, down his back, she spread it on his feet according to John. He writes, “The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” It filled the room with its scent and it soaked the cloak of Jesus. And we can well imagine that on Good Friday, that wonderful scent was still lingered in his clothing, reminding Jesus of that gift of love, and perhaps strengthening him on his journey to Golgotha.
Now consider if Mary would have waited for a time when there wouldn't have been such a fuss, a place where prying eyes would not have seen and judged her. It most likely would never have happened. Jesus only had 6 days left in this world. As she was being chastised, she may have regretted her actions for a moment. But we can be sure she lived the rest of her life happy that she didn't wait.
A young husband is packing his wife's belongings. His task is solemn. His heart heavy. He never dreamed she would die so young. But the cancer came so sure, so quickly. At the bottom of the drawer he finds a box, a negligee. Unworn. Still wrapped in paper. “She was always waiting for a special occasion,” he says to himself, “Always waiting.”
As a wife looks at the jewelry case, she rationalizes, “Sure, he would love this watch, but it's too expensive. He's a practical man, he'll understand. I'll just get a tie clip today. I'll buy that watch someday.”
Someday I will take her on that cruise. Some day I will have time to call and chat. Someday the children will understand why I was so busy. The price of practicality is sometimes higher than its cost.1
Our first lesson for this morning is that it is worth it to make the extra effort, take the time, write the letter, apologize, purchase the gift. Do it, whatever it is that shows your love to the people in your life; the co-worker, the customer, the stranger. And remember, love is action, not just a feeling. Take the opportunity to show love; the opportunity taken can bring joy; not taken...too often regret. I don't believe for a minute that Simon or Mary regretted their offerings that evening for Jesus. I'm sure they never forgot that evening in the company of Jesus and those who loved him.
And Mary, too extravagant, but then so was her love for her Savior. It was an act of love that will never be forgotten, 9 Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”
Don't miss the opportunity to tell or to show your love for someone, do it now while you are thinking of it, now while there is still time. Too often, “some day” never comes. So, we can't throw a dinner party for Jesus. We can't give him a gift of nard, or myrrh or frankincense. When we gift a gift of love for others, we show love for Jesus. John writes in his epistle, “We love because he first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.”
The second lesson for us is the reminder of what we owe Jesus. Simon, Mary, Lazarus...people for whom the touch of Jesus meant a restored life. When we have Jesus as part of our life, our life is restored. Jesus brings us a life of joy, of fellowship, of hope, of peace that passeth understanding, of love that knows no measure! We tend to sit in our pews on Sunday morning and say our prayers and sing our songs and give our offerings... and it is too easy to just leave Jesus out of the whole thing. We need to consciously focus on his extravagant, wondrous love; Jesus went to the cross for you. For you, for me. We need to personalize the love Jesus showed in his sacrifice. It is said, if you were the only person in the world, Jesus would still go to the cross for you—that's how much he loves you! Take a moment and get your mind around that... Jesus loves you beyond measure. And all he asks...all he asks is that you include him in your life. The rest will follow; desire to live right, the hope for eternity, the Agape love for others, the peace that Jesus brings, they all grow out of knowing Jesus. Seek Jesus every day, know Jesus better. The second verse in our next hymn says it like this, “Once I craved earthly joy, peace and rest, now thee alone I seek.” The wondrous love of Jesus starts everything. Now it is up to you to respond. Let this be our prayer, “more love to thee O Christ, more love to thee”. Amen.
More Love to Thee O Christ 359 PH
1Lucado, Max The Angels Were Silent page 50-51