Homily: March 13, 2016
March 13, 2016, YEAR C; Rev. Vant Washington, Deacon
Isn’t there something better we could be doing right now? Couldn’t we be up in the kitchen cooking a hot meal for all the homeless who wander the streets of Minneapolis? Couldn’t we be visiting the sick, the elderly, and the imprisoned? Couldn’t we be out in the garden planting crops for the Shelf of Hope? Couldn’t we be gathering clothes, medical supplies for the folks fleeing Syria? For that matter, couldn’t we be out on the streets protesting that war, protesting all wars, protesting the crazy politicians who seem bent on driving our country into the ditch? Why are we wasting our time with one more sermon, one more celebration of the Eucharist, one more prayer, hymn or lighted candle? Why are we wasting time and money? Answer me that.
Those are the kinds of questions Judas is asking. They are all related to his acute awareness of human suffering. The Gospel says he is using that awareness to line his own pockets. He’s shaming and blaming to earn a profit for himself. Later in the evening he will pocket
a bag of silver by betraying Jesus. It’s a big day for Judas. His bottom line is going to pick up considerably. That being said, how do we answer his question. How do we justify Mary’s extravagance and Jesus’ willingness to be bathed in luxury on the day Jews sit down to remember the bitterness of slavery and the cost of becoming wandering exiles?
The disciples would be justified to be outraged by what Mary and Jesus are doing. They are poor people who have enormous compassion and understanding of the needs of the poor. Remember that John the Baptist identified so strongly with the plight of the poor that he ate nearly nothing and wore rags throughout his ministry. John and perfume just never got together. He would have run from anyone who tried to douse him in a lotion that cost as much as a single laborer’s yearly wage. Many of disciples were followers of John. They cannot be blamed for not understanding Jesus’ extravagance. You see, they didn’t know where the story was headed. Jesus knew and so did Mary.
Remember what Jesus told them? The perfume was intended to be used after his death. Mary jumps the gun a bit, perhaps because she knew what was coming.
Not only does she know what is going to happen to Jesus during the rest of his life, she knows what his sacrifice will achieve. Imagine if she looked up from Jesus feet and told the assembly, “Our Lord is about to be convicted, crucified, suffer and die and, in so doing, redeem all the suffering and pain of this world and open the way to eternal life.” She is so overwhelmed by her knowledge, she begins to treat Jesus as if he were already dead. There’s an old song, “Give me my flowers while I live.” That’s the spirit of Mary’s act. She wants Jesus to feel her devotion.
Imagine that right now someone was creeping down the pew on hands and knees. Imagine that person takes off your shoes and socks and begins to gently massage your feet with precious oil. Imagine everyone was receiving that massage at the same time. We don’t all have the
most beautiful fee. We know that from our experience in this congregation when we have done the washing of the feet. We know our feet are terribly sensitive. It can tickle. But put that all aside and imaging the collective aroma of all that perfume filling our sanctuary. Wouldn’t it feel like the world had been transformed. What was bitter, has become sweet. What was callous and hard, has become soft and pliable. What was lost has been found. What was damned has been redeemed.
Mary and Jesus are putting on a kind of play for the disciples and for us. Jesus’ sacrifice transforms history, transforms the world and transforms us.
It is two thousand years since Mary bathed Jesus’ feet. We know the rest of the story, but how are we supposed to live our lives in light of that knowledge.
I answer that question with two responses. One, we need to change our lives drastically. The victory is already won. We know that. So do
we just go on making the same mistakes, hurting others, serving ourselves only—secure in the knowledge that Jesus’ has already paid the price of our sins? Or do we allow that victory to transform us utterly into witnesses of that victory. Do we begin to live lives that make others say, “There goes a Christian. I see by the joy and sense of purpose of that person, I see by the essential goodness of that person, that Jesus’ ministry and sacrifice are as alive today as when he walked the earth and suffered on the cross.”
Number Two. We take the time to express our gratitude and to worship sincerely and profoundly. That is what we are doing today. That is why we have put off for an hour all those good things we could be doing. By worshipping first, we ensure that when we act to do good we ensure that our purpose is clear and proper. We ensure that every good deed is itself and act of worship. We ensure that every kindness we offer is accompanied by a profound sense of hope. As a Christian, I can fill your empty stomach with the bread of the earth, but I can also
introduce you to the son of God who can fill your soul with that which Jesus’ harvested with his death—forgiveness of sin and everlasting life. I can embrace you as a brother, but more importantly I can help you recognize that God is already embracing you with his love and understanding.
So what will you do this coming week to proclaim Jesus’ victory to those you encounter? Will you complain to those you meet that you can’t have dessert because it is that awful time of year called Lent? Will you walk the streets with your head hung low because of some insult you receive from a thoughtless person, or spend your day muttering under your breathe because someone hurt your feelings with a cruel and tasteless act? Or will you walk upright and joyful in the knowledge that sin has been defeated, death has been defeated, and human nature, mixed as it is, full of selfishness as much as selflessness, has been redeemed, not for the day, not for the moment, but forever. Amen.