Monday, March 22, 2010

Lent 5C

I think I'm with Judas on this one. He was the only one thinking straight. He had the practical sense no one else had. He was trying to use their money wisely.

Pouring expensive perfume on someone's feet? Is that REALLY how God wanted them to use their money?

Commentators call Judas a "bean counter" and a "thief." They accuse him of not getting what Jesus was all about. Sure he'd been following Jesus for a couple of years, listening to him, dutifully taking worship notes, but he didn't fully understand what Jesus was saying. They say that Judas was trying to look pious in front of everyone else. That he wanted to shame his fellow followers. They wanted him to leave Mary alone.

I think Judas was listening just fine to what Jesus was saying. I'm sure he took excellent worship notes. Judas was probably voicing what everyone else was thinking. The perfume that Mary poured on Jesus' feet costs - what? - a week's salary? A month's salary? A year's? She definitely didn't pick up the bottle from the bargain bin at Wal-Mart. She had to go to specialty store and empty their bank account to buy it.

Whatever it cost, the money could have been put to better use. Children just outside their doors hadn't eaten since Tuesday. Women who lost their husbands to Roman cruelty were begging for scraps of food on the streets. Sick folks needed care. There were a lot of better ways they could have used their money. They didn't have to spend thousands of dollars on one fragrant expression of faith. This was no time for for extravagance.

Like I said, I think I'm with Judas on this one.

And Jesus doesn't sound like Jesus here, either. The Jesus of "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven" is conspicuously absent. The Jesus of "What you do for the least of these you do for me" has gone AWOL. The Jesus of "you cannot be my disciple if you own anything" has disappeared.

Instead, we have a Jesus who utters a phrase that sends shivers of delight down the meanest spines, "You will always have the poor with you. But you won't always have me." So, don't worry about all those poor people. Forget the futile effort to help them. They're like roaches. You can't get rid of them. No matter how hard you try they'll always keep coming back. So don't even bother with them. We're partying here tonight. Let's just eat and drink for tomorrow we...well, you know the rest.

Like I said, I think I'm with Judas on this one. And I think you are too.

For example, what would tell your wife if she come home with $5000 bottle of wine to drink with dinner? Or what you tell your husband if he bought a $10000 set of golf clubs and used them only once. How would you respond if your son or daughter blew a semester's tuition on spring break in Cancun?

Would you say, "Hey, good for you, now you're thinking! Life is short. Enjoy it while you can. You never know what's coming happen around the corner!"?

Or would you think that the money could be put to better use? That it was poor financial planning?

Maybe you're more like Judas than you realize.

And, we, as a church, decided NOT to upgrade to a bigger, fancier, building because the price they were asking was too high. We knew that a million dollar mortgage was money that could be better spent. We're making good use of what we have and our mission still moves forward. We spend our money carefully. We track our expenses. We're not poor, but we're not extravagant either.

Maybe we're more like Judas than we care to admit.

I know it's uncomfortable being compared to Judas. Especially when we know his pivotal role in end of the story, which John puts in parenthesis to make sure that his readers and future generations see that Judas was not acting for the common good.

But having put that in the story, placing Mary's acts in context, telling or reminding the reader that this social justice advocate was the one who was going to betray Jesus, tells me that John was uncomfortable with what Mary did, and that Judas may have had a valid point. Mary's act needed explaining. It was out of the bounds of common sense and careful stewardship. John may have been a little embarrassed with the whole scene. Maybe he didn't like the fact that he was more like Judas than he wanted to admit, so he wanted to place boundaries around it, lest we take Judas' side.

Still, John left it in his gospel despite his feelings. As did the others, who seemed to share John's discomfort. So they knew that something important was going on here. But what was it?

Maybe the setting provides the key. They're at the funeral lunch that wasn't. For who? Well, for Lazarus. A chapter earlier Jesus called Lazarus back to life after spending three days in the tomb. So, this was a party. But between the egg salad sandwiches and coffee, Mary breaks the mood with a costly expression of grief. Mary wasn't just showing Jesus how much she loved him. She was preparing Jesus for his own death. The perfume she put on his feet was to mask the smell of decaying flesh. Lazarus' funeral lunch became Jesus' funeral lunch.

Maybe she knew what she was doing. Maybe she didn't. But Jesus did. "The poor will always be with you. But I won't be." Jesus wasn't taking back everything he said about helping poor folks. Jesus was asking his disciples to prepare for the end. His end. Their end.

Yes, the cost of the perfume was huge. Extravagant. But I think that was to show the size of Jesus' sacrifice and the cost of God's love. They were smelling the fragrance of Jesus' message of suffering love for others. It was his way of telling them that his death was right around the corner. And with his death, the sin and death of the whole world would be taken to the grave with him. My sin and death. Your sin and death. Everyone's.

So, maybe I'm more like Judas than I realize because I made this about money. That the final judgment would be a financial audit. That what really matters in the world is shuffling funds around.

Mary's act wasn't supposed to make sense because God's love doesn't make sense. God's love is offensive to common wisdom. It mocks logic. It doesn't add up. It doesn't calculate risk verses reward. It simply pays without worrying about the price.

But this story is about preparing us to meet Jesus on the cross of our lives, to meet Jesus on the cross of our deaths. So that we can rise with him on that day when all people will experience God's extravagant love. That day when we see that the cost was worth it. That the price paid for us was money well spent. The God's economics of salvation includes all people.

May this be so among us. Amen.


Blogger pduncan said...

Good sermon, Kevin. You're a good writer.
Jeanette Duncan

12:48 PM  
Blogger Kevin said...

Thanks, Jeanette

9:53 PM  
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10:20 PM  

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