5 Lent, Year C
The Rev. R. Bingham Powell
Our Lenten Journey nears its end. Next Sunday begins Holy Week. We will gather here and wave our palms, and shout “Hosanna, Hosanna, Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord,” as those crowds did nearly 2000 years ago. And then we will dramatically retell the story of Christ's passion and death. We will move from his joyful entrance into Jerusalem, riding on that donkey, with crowds cheering, to his tragic exit, carrying his cross, with crowds jeering.
One week before we remember those events, we hear what happened one week before those events originally occurred. As we heard in the Gospel this morning, Jesus was with his friends, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, for supper. The disciples were there, too. This was not the first time they had eaten together. You probably remember the last time that they had shared a meal, in Luke's Gospel - Mary and Martha, Martha in the kitchen, busily preparing, Mary sitting with Jesus, learning all that she could. At that time, Martha rebuked Mary for not helping her with all of the preparations. Jesus defended Mary saying that what she did was right.
Well, Martha seems to have learned her lesson, she may be the one doing the serving again, but she doesn't rebuke her sister this time. (Or perhaps, Mary learned her lesson, and did enough work ahead of time to keep her sister off of her back). Our Gospel goes on to say that Mary takes a pound of costly perfume, this is valued at about a year's worth of wages for the average worker, and she starts anointing Jesus' feet, and washing his feet with her own hair. This is a rather extravagant act. She is touching Jesus' feet with perfume and her own hair, which is pretty extravagant on its own, but she uses expensive perfume at that, and she uses so much that it fills the whole house with its fragrance.
Her sister may not rebuke her, but Mary does get rebuked again for her actions, this time from Judas, who complains that the the money used to buy that perfume could have gone to help the poor instead.
In Judas' worldview, everything is limited and zero-sum. If the money was spent on this, it couldn't be spent on that. If money was spent on that, it couldn't be spent on this. Money for perfume means less money for the poor, and everyone and everything in the world is ultimately pitted against each other. It is a worldview of scarcity and fear. And that fear means that Judas is not even really going to help the poor, but only help himself, to get more for himself, to grasp, to hoard, to hold onto whatever he can, before it runs out, and before he is left without, even if it means that others are left without. This worldview, however, is not the way of Jesus. Money spent on the perfume does not need to be pitted against money to help the poor. For Jesus, it is not an either/or issue. It is not either help the poor or share your love for him, but for Jesus, we are to do both. Yes, it is okay to extravagantly express our love for Jesus, just as we should extravagantly express our love for our neighbors in need.
That line "you will always have the poor with you," from time to time, has tragically been misunderstood to mean that we shouldn't help the poor, but Jesus actually assumes we will help the poor. He is echoing Deuteronomy 15, which combines that line with the injunction to open our hands to the poor, to give, and to give abundantly. For there is not a scarcity of resources in Jesus' worldview. God has given us more than enough. God has given to us abundantly. "Consider the lilies of the field," said Jesus, "how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you?" (Matthew 6:28-30). God gives, and gives abundantly. Jesus shows and shares that abundance by making 180 extra gallons of wine for a wedding; by demonstrating that five loaves of bread, and two fish, were enough to feed more than 5000 people; and by rebuking Judas' scarcity, and graciously accepting the generous gift of Mary, who wants to do little more than share her love, demonstrating that her heart is fixed where true joy is to be found. Jesus shows and shares that abundance, by showing that the cross is the way of life, and giving his life in love.
And just as God has shared generously with us, we can share generously in response. We can rebuke scarcity, and fear, and claim the abundance of God's grace. We can give abundantly and extravagantly in love to Jesus, like Martha, fixing our heart where true joy is to be found. We can give our time in worship to him. We can give our financial resources, our money, to honor him. Those gifts that God has given us, we can joyfully offer back up to God.
And we can give to those in need, too. It's not an either/or issue like Judas tries to make it. And if we take our Bibles and our baptismal promises seriously, we know that sharing with those in need is sharing with Jesus also, for we are taught, whenever we give to the least of these, we give to Jesus. Every gift we give can be an offering in love to God.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, as we approach these last two weeks of Lent, these last weeks of this time set aside to intentionally grow in our faith, fix your heart where true joys are found, on God, on Jesus, who loves us extravagantly, rebuke the mindset of scarcity and fear that permeates this world, and open yourself in love to receive God's extravagant gifts, and, in return, open yourself in love, to give gifts extravagantly. Amen.