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Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
There are many good sayings and toasts that could have been spoked at the dinner honoring Jesus after miraculously raising his friend Lazarus from the dead. There is the classic Irish toast, “May you be in heaven a half-hour before the devil knows you are dead.” This is contrast to the financial analyst, who announced recently on Russian television while opening a bottle of champagne, “Dear Stock Market, you were interesting. Rest In Peace, dear Comrade.” Or there’s the story of the Norwegian immigrant Ole Johnson who opened the morning newspaper and was dumbfounded to read in the obituary column that he had died. He quickly phoned his best friend Sven “Sven, did you see the paper?” asked Ole. “They said I died!” “Ja, I read it!” replied Sven. Then he added thoughtfully, “So Ole where are you calling from?” Those are the things that could have been said, but instead we are left with Judas’ comments to Mary’s anointing Jesus’ feet with oil, “Why wasn’t perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor? Was this not wasted?”
In St. John’s gospel, we read that, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister Mary and Lazarus,” but he doesn’t tell us why. I rather suspect that it because of their unassuming, earnest faithfulness. In St. Luke’s gospel, we read that Jesus once stopped by Lazarus’ home in Bethany for dinner. Lazarus’ sister Mary plopped herself down at Jesus’ feet to hear him speak, while Martha busied herself in the kitchen. Martha put up with it for a while, but then marched up to Jesus, probably dressed in her finest apron, fist on her hip, with hair askew and face smudged with flour, pointing at her sister. Jesus adored that honesty and integrity. Martha and Mary and Lazarus were steadfast friends. He could always count on them for loyalty, support, gracious love- and a home cooked meal. Perhaps, that’s how you would describe yourself. You are not in the front of the line of the twelve disciples, nor are you overly demonstrative in your Christian faith and convictions. But you are certainly a faithful, unassuming friend of Jesus.
My friends, this morning, let me share with you three thoughts drawn from this story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, and Mary’s act of anointing Jesus’ feet. First, the friends and disciples of Christ are never immune from the struggles of this world. Second, in spite of the troubles, God always remains faithful. Third, consider when a miracle occurs in your life, how will choose to respond?
The story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead began days earlier when Mary and Martha pleaded that their brother, the beloved friend of Jesus had been fallen ill, and that Jesus should come and heal him. Oddly, instead of travelling immediately to the town of Bethany and the home of his friends, we read that Jesus headed off in another direction, and arrived four days after he had died. No doubt, there are moments when every Christian can feel discouraged and frustrated like Mary and Martha waiting for God to show up at the door. Your son has been diagnosed with leukemia, a child has been born with a deformed heart, a good marriage has been marred by alcohol abuse, a mother dies of an undetected brain aneurysm. You are haunted by the thoughts, “Jesus, you said that you’re my friend and that you love me.” Friends and disciples of Jesus are never immune to the troubles of the world.
Let us now turn to my second conviction. Amidst the world’s troubles, there is a distinct quality of faith which has been true of all Jesus’ unassuming friends throughout the centuries. It was true of Martha and Mary. It is a confidence that God is always faithful and that he has the power to work miracles. Indeed, Martha confessed, “Even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give to you.” The unassuming friends of Jesus do not presume to know the will of God, nor do they always know what they ought to ask for. But they are entirely certain of God’s love for them, and his compassion toward them. It is the assurance that nothing in all creation can separate them from the love of God. And so miracles happen every day. They may not be their timing. Mary and Martha certainly thought for a moment that Jesus’ opening the tomb world make their pain even worse. Then Lazarus walked out of the tomb.
In spite of what miracle occurs, there are always skeptics- even those who witness the miracle with their own eyes. Surprisingly, more damage can be done by doubting fellow believers than from those outside the faith. There were even skeptics and critics at the table that night that Mary poured the expensive perfumed oil over Jesus’ feet. The value of the oil was astounding – 300 denarii. It was an entire year’s income offered lovingly and selflessly to Jesus. The guest at the table watched as Mary let down the tightly wrapped hair from around her head, and she let her hair fall and began to wash the feet of Jesus. She wept, kissed Jesus’ feet, anointing his feet with the perfume as a gesture of deepest love, drying his feet with her long, falling hair. In the middle of this tender, emotionally riveting scene, there was a skeptic, a spoilsport, someone who wanted to spoil the mood. Oddly, it was Judas, one of Jesus’ chosen told that seemed to be the most skeptical. He knew she loved him. He loved her too. So why this public demonstration, this among friends? It was too extravagant, and too excessive.
St. John would like to criticize the disciple’s harsh treatment of Mary and his careless and selfish response as a sign of his greed and dishonesty, which may be true. But I believe that Judas’ words also reflect the common human response to God’s miracles. It is to minimize their importance and wonder. Judas treated Mary’s action as an enthusiastic, but naïve gesture. “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” Perhaps that is your response to God’s actions as well. You don’t see yourself as stingy, but you don’t see the need in giving thanks to God in return. You’re rather like the twenty dollar bill and the one dollar bill who met one day in the bank. The one dollar bill asked the twenty where he had been since he was issued. The twenty dollar bill answered proudly, “Oh, I’ve been traveling around. I’ve been to the movie theatre, basketball game, a play, and a few restaurants. And where have you been?” the twenty said to the one dollar bill. “Oh, I’ve been traveling too. I’ve been to the Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian and Lutheran churches.” The twenty dollar bill looked confused, “Could you tell me? What’s a church? I’ve never been there.” Perhaps for you, sacrificial giving or an offering of thanksgiving has no meaning. Unfortunately, you’re not alone. More of us hold onto our purse strings like Judas, rather than offered in gratitude everything we possess like Mary.
Jesus’ unassuming friend Mary knew no other way to respond to this miracle of love and restored life than to offer Jesus everything she had to live on. She knew first hand how differently every day and every corner of the world appeared when she you saw these as places where Christ had been. Mary’s gift was not wasted. It was her gift of love to the one who offered his love to her.
It was an act so lavish that it should suggest to us another truth. It is a foreshadowing of what God himself would do. In but a few days, Jesus would be crucified, and the perfumed oil would be prepared a second time. There would be nothing economical or sparing about this man’s death, just as there had been nothing economical about his life. In him, the extravagance of God’s love was poured out and made flesh.
So my friends, was Christ’s life wasted when it was offered upon the cross for you? After all it was for you that Christ humbled himself and died- so that you might live. So how do stand beneath the cross of Jesus? Are you a skeptical follower, or an unassuming grateful friend? Do your words echo the sentiments of Judas, “This was truly wasted?” Or is your response that of the unassuming Mary, who could do nothing more than offer everything she had, her most precious treasure and her tears? Only you can choose. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.