The Fifth Sunday in Lent; Year C (3/13/2016)

Lessons:Isaiah 43:16-21 Psalm 126 (5) Philippians 3:4b-14 St. John 12:1-8

Prayer of the Day: Creator God, you prepare a new way in the wilderness, and your grace waters our desert. Open our hearts to be transformed by the new thing you are doing, that our lives may proclaim the extravagance of your love given to all through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

12.1 Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3 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. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5 “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” 6(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.) 7 Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

St. John 12:1-8 New Revised Standard Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

 

Generous, Sacrificial, Extravagant

The value of ancient Roman coins seemed to rise and fall at the Emperor’s whim, but by most estimates a denarius in the first century was worth about a day’s wage for a Roman soldier. What would a day’s wage be for a soldier in the United States today? According to www.goarmy.com, “the average active duty service member receives an Army benefits and pay compensation package worth $99,000… [including] health care, retirement pay, child care and free or subsidized food, housing and education.” $99,000 per year. $271 per day. Or if you assume 48 6-day work weeks, $344 per work day. Either way you figure it, 300 day’s wages at today’s rate for a U.S. soldier would run somewhere between $80,000 and $100,000.

What could $80,000 provide for needy people today? 320,000 meals for hungry people through Denver’s Foodbank of the Rockies. 16,000 days of inpatient care for patients at Selian Lutheran Hospital in Tanzania. 27,000 mosquito nets for people living in countries where Malaria is prevalent. More than half of a Habitat for Humanity house in the metro-Denver area (or 25-150 homes in developing nations…).

Judas was right to ask, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?”

St. John seems to discount the complaint of Judas based on his misbehavior. (He was a thief, you know; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) But the question remains: why did Jesus welcome this shockingly extravagant gesture from Mary just six days before Passover?

His response to Judas is, “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.” — a comment some have used to justify ignoring the needs of the poor. But his point is the opposite: they will be able to care for the poor for years to come (and if they have understood his message, they know they should), but time is short, and extraordinary events are about to take place. Mary’s timing is perfect. Like the prophets of old anointed those who were chosen by God to become king, Mary anoints Jesus as he approaches his passion. An expensive, aromatic, lavish anointing for one who is about to give the ultimate gift — his very life — in order to welcome all the people of the world into a right relationship with God.

As I mentioned two Sundays ago, healthy Christian discipleship includes both an internal and an external dimension — or in terms of this week’s lesson: offering our lavish gifts to Christ and his church and supporting efforts to relieve and alleviate the poverty and hunger that surrounds us in this world. Neither is to be our exclusive focus. Both are essential elements of a faithful life.

Jesus accepts this gift from Mary, and then goes on to give of himself for the world. Our task is to discover what we might learn from his example.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Why does Mary pour this costly perfume on Jesus’ feet and anoint him?
  2. Why does Judas Iscariot complain about what Mary has done?
  3. Why does Jesus comment Mary for what she has done?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What extravagant support am I willing to give to Christ and his church, to honor what God has done for me?
  2. What needs in this world am I in a position to touch?
  3. How has my faith elicited generous praise and sacrificial generosity from me?