“Mary and Judas”
13 March 2016 – Lent 5C
the Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor
East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Church
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.
John Calvin (1509-1564),
one of the great Protestant reformers of his day,
and a contemporary of Martin Luther,
created many patterns and thoughts
that would dominate Western culture
throughout the modern period.
His Calvinist doctrines were brought to the Swiss city of Geneva,
reforming the church and government in new and important ways. One of his greatest gifts to the theological reformation of his day
was the integrity he brought
to the interpretation of scripture.
(with thanks to Washington State University, at http://www.wsu.edu/~dee/REFORM/CALVIN.HTM)
John Calvin spoke of scripture
as the “lens” through which we look at the world.
Reading the Bible is like putting on a pair of spectacles
whereby certain things come into focus
which we had not seen before,
whereas other things are pushed out of focus.
(William H. Willimon, March 28, 2004, Pulpit Resources).
His metaphor of a “lens” is very helpful to us
as we take a look at our Gospel passage for this morning.
We are Protestant, Western, American Christians,
who live in the spiritual cycle of the liturgical life.
We find ourselves in the season of Lent,
a season of soul-searching and repentance,
a season for reflection and taking stock,
a time when we walk with Jesus
through his forty days of temptation in the wilderness,
and travel with him
on his journey to Jerusalem,
and his cross.
This is the last Sunday before Palm / Passion Sunday.
We can feel our Saviour’s approach to the end;
the foreboding sense of gathering gloom.
Our soulful imagination tells us
that matters are coming to a head,
that the enemies of Jesus,
who have been lurking in the shadows,
may be at last on the move against him.
This is the lens through which we approach today’s lesson.
Our Gospel has been rightly chosen from John.
It could have come from Mark or Luke
where it is vaguely paralleled.
But John has taken these two sources,
combined them into one narrative
that explicitly links itself with Christ’s burial,
which gives it that latent Lenten appeal.
Mark identifies an unnamed woman,
in the home of Simon the leper,
who anointed Jesus’ feet.
Luke records the occasion
taking place in the home of Simon the Pharisee,
with “a woman of the city, who was a sinner,”
who was the one who anointed Jesus’ feet.
The Gospel evangelist, John,
reports that this occasion takes place
immediately following the raising of Lazarus from the dead,
the Sanhedrin’s decision to kill Jesus,
and six days before the Passover.
This places the narrative on the day before,
the Saturday of,
his triumphant entry to Jerusalem
on Palm Sunday.
The location was Bethany, John reports,
is a mere two miles from the eastern gates of the city of Jerusalem.
The setting is the home of Lazarus, Mary and Martha;
siblings whom Jesus has come to know and love as friends.
They were sharing a meal;
one much like the one that would be repeated
as the last Passover Supper
Jesus would share with his disciples five days later.
Imagine sharing a meal with Lazarus!
He had just been raised from the dead!
Now THAT would lead
to some interesting dinner conversation, wouldn’t it?
The smell of the household had been death
– four days of stench from laying in the tomb.
“Lazarus, come out!”
Jesus commanded (John 11:43),
and out he walked,
struggling with the strips of cloth that bound his body.
Compare that stench
with the sweet Passover smells
that fill the house in today’s narrative.
Martha was doing her Martha thing;
– serving, cooking, cleaning, waiting upon the dinner guests.
We assume the disciples are present,
though John only identifies Judas as one of the other guests.
Mary is doing her Mary thing;
-- we assume listening to Jesus intently,
when she breaks out a pound
of costly perfume made of pure nard,
and anointed Jesus’ feet,
and wiped them with her hair.
Think of it, a pound of perfume,
not a fraction of an ounce
as you might find in a designer perfume of today;
a pound of costly perfume was used to anoint Jesus’ feet.
Certainly the fragrance
would have overwhelmed the senses of everyone present,
of everyone in the household.
Mary’s actions speak of the love she had for Jesus.
Mary responds without being told.
She loves before Jesus teaches his disciples to love,
when he washes their feet at the Last Supper
“I give you a new commandment,”
Jesus would tell them,
“that you love one another.
Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples,
if you have love for one another.”
Her love of Jesus becomes the foundation
for a life-long relationship;
a hallmark of discipleship.
At the same table sits Judas,
John doesn’t water it down like Mark did;
reporting that the protest come
from some who “were there.”
Could Mark be a little more vague?
He doesn’t ascribe the criticism to the obvious source in Luke,
“If this man were a prophet,
he would have known who
and what kind
of woman this is …”
Could Luke have been a little more obvious?
John puts the critical words right on the lips of Judas.
The Gospel author writes from a post Passion perspective,
for he reports that
it was Judas Iscariot who would betray him.
He also writes with insight
into the inner relationships and dynamics between the disciples.
He knew that Judas was a thief;
that he stole from their common purse.
The groundwork for his treasonous motive is established;
Judas was motivated to betray Jesus to the Sanhedrin
because of greed.
His criticism is particularly harsh
– and financially based.
Three hundred silver pieces, or more!
What we don’t hear him say are most probably his thoughts
– “It’s outrageous that a year’s wages would be wasted!
if our contributors learned of the extravagance,
they would be outraged!”
But quietly, under his breath,
we can hear his whisper,
“That’s 300 denarii I could have put into my pocket.”
In this sense,
the word “betray”
doesn’t speak to the point
of the one who would turn Jesus over to the Roman authorities.
“Betray,” taken right out of the Greek,
becomes the destruction of relationship
Judas has with Jesus.
Judas divorces himself from Jesus
and walks away without thinking twice.
Here in the presence of a newly resurrected man,
eating at a table reminiscent of the Last Supper,
the contrast couldn’t be more poignant.
On the one hand is Mary,
the silent disciple,
whose love will define a relationship with Jesus,
who acts and speaks purely out of love.
And on the other hand is Judas,
the destroyer of discipleship,
who acts and speaks out of greed.
“Leave her alone.” Jesus commands.
“She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial,”
Her act of love and gratitude for Jesus becomes his Last Rites.
His Last Rites.
the final preparation for the healing of heaven.
Today we are hit square in the face
with the realization that Mary has anointed Jesus
for his imminent death.
The atheist might consider death
as the final period at the end of a life sentence.
But to the young girl who had died and was resurrected by Jesus,
and to Lazarus who had died and was resurrected by Jesus,
death was not the final answer.
They had been drawn out of the grave
by the Author of Everlasting Life.
Yet, their resurrections were isolated.
An eternal solution was required for all of humanity.
The death and resurrection of Jesus
was to become the everlasting resolution
for the depravity of sin,
and for the salvation of the world.
Few encounters in the Gospels
are more contrasting than John’s account of Mary anointing,
and Judas criticizing Jesus.
The light of salvation is with Jesus,
and her love for him.
That love is like a house filled with perfume,
sweet perfume that bespeaks her deep relationship
and faithful discipleship.
Contrast this with the darkness of greed, sin, and death.
This becomes the hangman’s noose for Judas.
The stench of the putrid grave assaults the senses,
and gives voice to the evil of this world.
This contrast gives us a choice.
Do we choose light or darkness?
Do we choose life or death?
Do we choose love or greed?
Do we choose a relationship with Jesus,
Of deepening faith and woven discipleship,
or do we seek to criticize, tear down, and destroy?
Do we listen and learn from Mary,
or do we heed the seductive hiss of Judas’ betrayal?
The Passion of Jesus Christ presents us with this choice.
over the upcoming days
of passion, suffering, persecution, vinegar, and death,
let us come to Christ;
walk with him,
even carry the cross for him.
Christ invites us to join him at the table.
Our hope lies in choosing Christ.
He did what he did because he loves his sheep,
he loves his disciples,
he loves those who walk the journey of faith by his side.
He washed away our sins with his blood.
He became our sacrificial lamb,
atoned himself for you and me.
Jesus allowed himself
to become the divine substitute for our sins.
Our hope lies in choosing Christ.
He rose from the dead,
not for his own satisfaction,
but for you and me,
for our eternal life.
His resurrection broke the gates of hell,
rolled the stone away from the tomb,
and has become for us the gift of eternity with our God.
In choosing Christ,
we affirm the goodness of living in God’s light,
of accepting his gift of everlasting life.
Our hope lies in choosing Christ.
Like Mary’s love anointing the feet of Jesus,
our Lord’s motive was simple:
he forgives us and saves us
because he loves us and wants the best for us.
On the other hand,
the motive of Judas was simply greed and death.
Wherein lies your hope?
Which will you choose?
Thanks be to God. Amen.