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Lent 5C Sermon
John 12: 1-8

March 13, 2016


Sermon Archives


In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; Amen.

Outside of his mother and the twelve named disciples, the three siblings known only as Mary, Martha and Lazarus of Bethany are probably the closest people to Jesus that the Gospels tells us about. There are three stories about these siblings, and they all are fairly familiar to most Christians. The first story is about the time when Jesus was visiting their home, and Mary took the opportunity to simply sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to him. Martha was distracted by her many tasks – one of which was probably preparing something for their house-guest to eat! Martha wants Jesus to scold Mary for not helping; instead, he commends her for choosing the better part. She knows that having Jesus in their very home is a rare opportunity, and she wanted to be with him as much as she could while she had the chance.

Then there was the time when Jesus raised Lazarus up from the dead, which happens right before the one from our gospel lesson today and is even referenced in it. You know the gist – Jesus receives word that Lazarus is ill and his sisters want him to come right away; he intentionally delays his trip to Bethany and Lazarus subsequently dies. He arrives on the scene and is approached one at a time by both Martha and Mary with the same phrase, “If only you would have been here, our brother would not have died!” Jesus himself even weeps over the death of this friend! After promising that there is resurrection from the dead and that indeed HE is the resurrection and the life, he orders Lazarus’ tomb to be unsealed and he calls forth for him to come out. Lazarus does, they unbind him and he returns to his home.

Then we have this passage – Mary and Martha are hosting a dinner to celebrate that their brother was raised from the dead. Reclining around the table are Jesus, Lazarus and some others – the only one of Jesus’ disciples we know for sure is there was Judas. Mary, once more doing what we don’t expect her to do if she were at all worried about social convention of the time, breaks open a container of costly perfume costing 300 denarii – the value of one year’s worth of wages for a laborer. The smell fills the entire house … which was probably very welcome to them, considering the fact that Lazarus had just come back from being dead for four days, and we were told then that already he stunk! Judas accuses Mary of wasting something so valuable that it could have done a lot of good in the world for the poor, and Jesus reminds them all that they will always have the poor with them, but that they would not always have him. He also points out that Mary has anointed him ahead of time for his burial.

Judas reminds me of so many politicians that we hear these days, using a false concern for the poor to mask their own selfish greed and drive for power. John gives us insight into Judas’ character not only by telling us that he used to steal from the common purse (over which he was keeper), but he calls him a thief – klepteis, in the Greek language, from which we get the word, “kleptomaniac.” The only other place in John’s gospel that he refers to people as “kleptai” is in chapter 10 when Jesus talks about how he is the Good Shepherd. Others who do not enter by way of the gate, whose voice the sheep do not recognize, and who do not own the sheep or lay down their lives for the sheep, these are the thieves or “kleptai”. They have come only to steal, kill and destroy. This is how John points out Judas in our gospel story today when he complains about Mary’s extravagant gift of perfume for Jesus – as one who has no concern for God’s flock, but seeks only to steal, kill or destroy.

Jesus responds to Judas by quoting the first part of a passage from Deuteronomy 15:11, “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.’” In other words, “you will always have the poor with you, so you need to be generous with the poor and needy in your land … but having said that, you will not always have me.” In quoting that well-known passage from the Jewish scriptures, Jesus challenged Judas’ everyday life, kind of asking him, “who are you to accuse this true disciple of not caring for the poor.” Jesus is reminding Judas not only that there always will be poor to care for, but there has always been poor to care for, and that his life up until this point has not shown forth much care for the poor; as a matter of fact, his life has exhibited a disregard for the poor in favor of taking care of himself first. He has no basis for his criticism of Mary as he looks wide-eyed on her as she pours out this expensive liquid onto Jesus’ feet.

Mary, Martha and Lazarus of Bethany model for us what discipleship looks like for the common, everyday believer in Jesus as God’s Son. We all go about our work, live among family and friends, try to keep up with the needs of our households, and steer clear of trouble when possible. In the midst of all of that, we seek to give worship and devotion to Jesus when we have the chance. He had given this family a terrific gift when he called Lazarus out of the tomb. Martha did for Jesus what was her nature as a terrific hostess – she threw a dinner part for Lazarus and Jesus to celebrate that she got her brother back … she is a female version of the father in last Sunday’s Prodigal Son parable, you might say. And Mary does for Jesus as is her nature as a more spiritual, attentive person, by breaking open this expensive perfume in order to hide the odor of her beloved brother, and to do something nice for Jesus that others would not be able to do.

As we, common everyday believers in Jesus as God’s Son, go about our everyday tasks of serving God amongst our families and jobs, it is good for us to recognize when it is appropriate to be extravagant in our devotion to Jesus, returning thanks for the many gifts that we have received on account of his love for us! We are here this morning, and that is a good first step! Even though it meant losing an hour of sleep, we made a commitment to be here in worship, knowing that Jesus once said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am also.” You may have even dressed a little nicer today than you would have had you stayed home to work in the yard or do some dishes. You may even put an offering in the plate when it goes down your row, sacrificing from your own purse out of devotion to the one who is the source of your income and everything that you have. I commend you for being like Mary and Martha this morning!

At the same time, we are to grieve and keep on inviting the ones who act like Judas is acting in this passage. When we consider those who may use the poor as a weapon to accuse the church of not being faithful, while they have no intention of helping the poor themselves, we grieve just as God grieves, and we lift them in prayer. When we consider those who claim a relationship with Jesus, all the while they don’t put a priority on being in his presence when he is among us, we grieve along with God as well. Our focus as a church and as individual Christians is to remain faithful as our gifts allow us to be faithful. We recognize the poor among us and we try to help them as we are able; but we also recognize that for our own spiritual well-being, Jesus has come into our midst and given us new life. In response to that gift, we raise our songs, prayers, and give of our time and treasure in thanksgiving and praise. Thanks be to God for the opportunity we have not only to serve the least among us, but to worship the greatest there’s ever been, Jesus Christ our Lord; Amen.