Sermon April 3, 2022: On Having A Mindset of Generosity, Abundance and Compassion
Sometimes when you read something or hear something read you can picture how it would look as a movie or a play or even a sitcom. Today’s Gospel reading has always struck me that way.
I can see the story as if it was on stage. We have the cosy dinner party with Mary, Martha and Lazarus as hosts. Jesus, their very very dear friend is the guest of honour. It would be an intimate party with lots of talk about the past and perhaps the future. They might be telling well loved stories. Sharing these as only close friends do. An outsider would not understand the inside jokes or references to other times and places.
And then the action shifts and Mary moves from her role as host to an act of reverence. How long has she had this nard? Where did it come from? Why is she choosing to use it now?
Mary moves to Jesus and opens the jar which fills the room with the scent of spikenard - an aromatic herb used to create a burial ointment. And she dips her hands into the jar and begins to rub it into Jesus’ feet. An act of love, an act of reverence and an act that anticipates what will come so very very soon.
Jesus will mimic this act in a few days when he washes the feet of the disciples when they are at table once more. Jesus will dry their feet with a towel. But Mary uses her hair. It would have been strange at this time for her hair to be unveiled. But we must remember the context - close friends at home together.
And then we have the introduction of the villain in our stage production. Judas. Judas rebukes Mary. Outraged that she would use this ointment to anoint Jesus’ feet instead of selling it and giving the money away to the poor. Was Judas jealous? Was he jealous of how close Mary and Jesus were?
And again I can see the action in my mind - the narrator turns to the audience and tells us quite clearly that Judas is not concerned for the poor. Judas is a thief - he takes freely from the common purse. We are also given the advanced knowledge that Judas cannot be trusted in anyway - it is he who will betray Jesus.
And then it’s Jesus’ turn for dialogue. He rebukes Judas (although not as strongly as he will rebuke Peter). Jesus tells Judas to leave Mary alone. She is showing her love, acting out her love. She does not trust to words, only action. Mary alone of those gathered this night understands what is to come. Not only does Mary understand she accepts it.
How difficult it must have been for Mary. She has only recently had the emotional turmoil of the death of her brother Lazarus and then the miracle of his return. She has listened to the teachings of Jesus. She has taken them to heart. She knows, she understands what is coming. Was her heart so heavy she could not speak? Was she so bowed down with grief that she could not even weep? Was her act of anointing Jesus the only thing she could do?
Was Mary’s heart breaking? She gave Jesus the only gift she could still give. She anointed him as if for burial. She would not have another opportunity. It is an incredibly poignant moment.
If you were part of this scene where would you put yourself? What character would you want to play if this was a drama on the stage? Would you want one of the main roles? Would you audition for a speaking part or perhaps just in the crowd enjoying the meal? The spotlight is on Mary and Jesus and Judas but everyone at that meal must have been impacted by what they heard and saw.
We have the tension - the contrast between Judas and Mary - who is the true disciple? One uses words to try to wound while the other uses action to demonstrate love and respect.
If we are honest with ourselves we might be a bit Judas and a bit Mary as well. The Christian disciple is not one or the other, but a combination of the two.
And what about Jesus’ comments to Judas and by extension to the others at the dinner party? You will always have the poor with you - you will not always have me. This text is one of the most abused in our Gospels.
Almost inconceivably this speech by Jesus has been used in the Church over the generations to justify NOT looking after the poor! That was clearly not what Jesus meant, nor what he intended.
The poor remain with us, and we are to serve their needs as a way to honour Jesus.
Mary’s act is one of abundance. Of excessiveness. We have seen over and over again - when Jesus is around there is abundance. A mindset of abundance and generosity and compassion, calling us to see this instead of scarcity. To dare to love extravagantly as our Saviour loved and was love. As God loves us.