Devotional Message: The 5th Sunday in Lent (4/7/2019)

Lessons

Isaiah 43:16-21
Psalm 126
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.

Text for This Sunday

12:1 Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3Mary 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. 4But 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.) 7Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

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

Message: The Home of Lazarus in Bethany

There are some locations mentioned in the Gospels that are absolutely loaded with meaning. Bethlehem, where Jesus is born. Nazareth, where Jesus grows up. Capernaum, to which Jesus relocates as an adult. The Sea of Galilee, where Jesus calls his disciples and survives a terrific storm at sea. The Mount of Olives, where Jesus prays shortly before his death. And the home of Lazarus, Mary and Martha, in Bethany, about 1½ miles east of Jerusalem, on the south-eastern slope of the Mount of Olives.

Bethany is where John the Baptizer is questioned by priests and Levites from Jerusalem, who come to challenge his ministry. Bethany is where Jesus often spends the night, during his visits to Jerusalem. Bethany is where Jesus has dinner with Simon, the leper. Bethany is where Jesus raises his dear friend, Lazarus, who had died four days earlier (after which the chief priests and the Pharisees begin planning for how they will put Jesus to death). And Bethany is where Jesus blesses his disciples, and is carried up into heaven.

It is in Bethany, this important — perhaps even sacred — place, at the home of Lazarus, where this week’s Gospel lesson takes place. Martha, in her usual fashion, serves a fine meal to the gathered guests who were at the table with Jesus and Lazarus. It is her way of honoring this visiting teacher, whose wisdom and power has changed her life in so many ways. But it is her sister, Mary, who is at the center of this particular story. With a gesture extravagant enough to offend the sensibilities of Judas Iscariot, and to touch the very heart of Jesus, she takes a pound of costly perfume, worth about as much as a year’s pay for most residents of Bethany, and anoints Jesus’ feet. As she wipes his feet with her hair, St. John tells us that, “The house is filled with the fragrance…”

Judas protests, arguing that a year’s pay could have brought relief to so many of the poor. (St. John suspects he has less noble motives.) Jesus seems glad to receive this extravagant gift — and interprets it in a way that Mary could never have anticipated. She has anointed him for the day of his burial. Mary’s extravagant gift, anointing Jesus as he prepares to give his extravagant gift; it fills the house with the fragrance of sacred love.

To argue about whether we should honor Jesus or feed the poor is to misunderstand the significance of this moment. The poor will be present forever, and God’s people do well to serve them with love and compassion. But Mary recognizes this moment for what it is, and with heartfelt love she prepares Jesus for the gift he is about to give. The gift he continues to give today.

As the raising of Lazarus sets the wheels in motion for Jesus’ execution, Mary’s anointing of his feet proclaims the extravagance of Jesus’ love. A love that makes all the difference in the world to Lazarus, and Mary, and Martha, and so many others who are touched by him. A love that makes all the difference in the world to us today, as well.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel

  1. What might Mary have had in mind as she anointed the feet of Jesus?

  2. How do Jesus and Judas understand this moment in radically different ways?

  3. How does Mary’s act of love prepare the reader for what will come next in Jesus’ story?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel

  1. How might I show my love for Jesus in bold and extravagant ways?

  2. What pressures or sensibilities diminish my ability to love Jesus with my whole heart?

  3. Am I aware of anyone who lives in a way that displays a passionate and exuberant love for God?