Fifth Sunday of Lent / March 21, 2010 / Message by Pastor Carol Kniseley for the people of Resurrection Lutheran Church / Text: John 12: 1-8 / The Thing About Mary
The thing about Mary…is what everyone was talking about. And of course, they were all looking at me as if I, her sister, could somehow explain her latest episode of “odd behavior”. Who am I? Well…you better pull up a chair…because you are never going to believe what I have to tell you. My name…is Martha. And it was at our house that Jesus came to visit…like he had a hundred times before. This time, he was on his way to Jerusalem for the annual Passover Feast. And from the look on his face…this time would be different from all the rest.
He came just six days before Passover was to begin. Yes, the disciples all came as well…but we didn’t mind. We were so use to Jesus just dropping in…that we honestly thought of him as just one of the family. One…big…extended…family…who really loved to eat their fill. It was only natural that we prepare a meal for everyone to enjoy…but I have to say, it was Mary’s idea to do so in Jesus’ honor. At the time, I didn’t really think anything about it. After all…one of the things about Mary…is that she certainly marches to her own beat, no matter what the rest of us are hearing.
Anyway….there we all were, some reclining on the floor next to the table…others, like myself, serving the meal…while Lazarus, that’s our brother, was doing his best to keep everyone’s spirits up by pouring the wine. It still seemed so unbelievable…seeing Lazarus there, so full of life and energy…the picture of health. It wasn’t all that long ago when we were all standing outside of this very house…weeping and wondering why Jesus was taking so long to come when Lazarus was so very sick. And when he did come…it was too late, or so we thought. As I recall, it was Mary who then approached Jesus, and falling at his feet professed quite loudly: “Lord…if you had been here…my brother would not have died.” It was then…that I saw Jesus weep.
One of the things I should tell you about Mary…is that whenever she believes in something…or someone…she believes with her whole heart, mind, body, and soul. For Mary it is 100% commitment...100% of the time…24/7. There is no in-between for her. It’s either all…or nothing…and that is what I think drew her…to Jesus in the first place. Spending time…sitting at his feet…listening…taking it all in…like a parched plant in need of life-giving water. The thing about Mary…the thing I admire the most…is that she took the time to drink.
Now…back to the dinner. No one really noticed when Mary slipped off to get something out of her room that night. When she returned, she silently knelt at Jesus’ feet and broke open a jar of what turned out to be a very expensive perfume. Where she got it…I don’t have a clue. But what I did grasp, was that it wasn’t something that one finds down at the local market. No, from the intoxicating smell of mint mixed with ginseng…this was pure nard…all the way from India…having traveled some 2500 miles to this very place. And with everyone in the room watching, my sister Mary didn’t hesitate to do four remarkable things in a row.
First of all, she loosened her hair in a room filled with men, something no respectable woman would ever consider. She them proceeded to pour balm on Jesus’ feet, which again is never done by a woman in public. The head…perhaps, but never…ever…the feet. Then she touched him. A single woman caressing the feet of a rabbi…simply is not done, even among friends. The last thing she did was to wipe the salve off again with her hair. It is totally unexplainable…a bizarre end to an already bizarre circumstance, I have to admit.
As I said earlier, Mary has a way of going to extremes. Granted…by many people’s standards, including my own…it was extravagant. It was excessive. She had gone way overboard with her display of affection…even to the point of turning some heads.
“Why wasn’t this perfume sold…and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” That came from Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, the one who was in charge of the money. You could have heard a pin drop as all eyes turned on Mary.
“Leave her alone,” Jesus said. “It was intended…that she should save this perfume for the day of my…burial.” There…you see….it was Jesus who made the connection between what Mary had done…and his impending death. At first, I had no idea...none of us did really. But, there had been rumors that because of Jesus’ act of raising Lazarus from the dead…he had signed his own death warrant. And not only would his enemies be searching for a way to make Jesus disappear…they wanted Lazarus out of the picture as well. After all, Lazarus was “living proof” of what Jesus was capable of doing. And that scared the begeebers out of those who simply did not understand.
And yet…the one thing about Mary that no one could deny was that somehow…someway…she seemed to understand before any of the rest of us…what Jesus was all about. God’s Love. Love to the max. Love to the extreme. Love so excessive and so lavish that there are no limits to adhere to. There are no boundaries as far as God’s love is concerned….extending even to those who would put an end to our very life. Mary knew…that the only time one’s feet are ever anointed…are at the time of one’s own death. By pouring the perfume on Jesus’ feet…and not his head…she was in her own way preparing him for what was soon to come to pass.
An act of love? Most definitely. A bit excessive? Perhaps. But was it worth the price paid for by Mary? To the Son of God…it most certainly was. Mary got the message and acted on it. Where God is concerned there is no need to fear of not having enough…for there is nothing frugal about the love of God…or about the lives of those who serve him. And that’s the thing about Mary we all need to hear. Amen