Reading: John 12:1-8
It’s hard to believe Easter is at hand. I suppose our little ones look forward to it with some obvious enthusiasm. Who can resist those chocolate bunnies and yummy eggs? Mainly music and Messy Church were both quite animated this week by the idea of bunnies and chocolates. At Mainly Music we held off on real chocolate eggs as one of the team managed to find some rubber bouncing ones. The easter egg hunt at Messy Church was a hit I am sure.
For Jesus, the impending suffering he was about to face would have been less than enticing. Thankfully there were people in his life who expressed love and commitment to him in extravagant ways, ways which would have been hugely inspiring and encouraging.
Early on that extravagance was seen in Jesus’ first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. If you don’t know the story, it’s a great one. The wine had run out. Jesus’ supporters were there. Mary his mother for example. Your mum is always your best supporter.
At the wedding her advice to the servants has got to be the most sensible advice for us all: “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2:5).
The surprising extravagance seen in buckets of new wine (transformed bath water!) is a joy and a surprise in every sense. Jesus loved breaking conventions (bringing out the best wine last is an example at the wedding).
That story is in John chapter 2. Jump ten chapters in John’s Gospel and another Mary extravagantly shows her love for Jesus and fills the house with the fragrance of a pint of perfume poured out on his feet.
The story is recorded elsewhere and in the other accounts the perfume or nard is poured on his head. Here it’s on his feet – and there’s this interesting and sensual act by Mary (Lazarus’ sister) of wiping his feet with her hair. Mind you Mary was the one who sat at his feet listening to his teaching. It wasn’t an unfamiliar place for her to be.
This anointing of Jesus is an intimate and generous moment which would have affirmed and emboldened him as he faced a terrifying and tortuous Passover – the event we celebrate with lollies (chocolates and sweets, if you don’t know the kiwi word).
The Passover for him would not be the celebration of liberation from slavery by eating a delicious sacrificial roast lamb.
He would be the sacrifice.
I think I may be slowly understanding the effect of extravagant love like Mary’s for Jesus. I think I love him extravagantly. I hope he understands and knows this. I seek to pour out my life in praise and adoration every moment. And in sacrifice.When we have levels of intense pain and physical struggle in our lives, perhaps we will begin to have a sense of sharing in his suffering and becoming like him in his death (Phil 3:10).
On those days maybe we too will be inspired by those who love us extravagantly.
For me – whatever the fragrance is, and there are many that are beautiful and enriching – from sandalwood to lavender, vanilla, rosemary, cinnamon, or some other lovely aroma – our lives are meant to be a lovely aroma for him and for others.
May the fragrance of Jesus fill our lives. Remember Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 2:14: “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him.”
Mary’s beautiful gift which incensed those who saw its dollar value was both incense and myrrh. It foreshadowed his death and enriched his life.
We should also be grateful to those who love us and show it generously. It helps us enormously when we have to face my passovers of pain.
The rather starting and amazing thing about this sacrificial gift of a year’s worth of precious spikenard was that it may well have been all she had – perhaps her inheritance. But she loved him more. Only the characters in Andrew Lloyd Weber’s JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR have to sing “I don’t know how to love him”. We do. We know. Scripture tells us how. Wesley’s hymn reminds us: “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.” We can learn new ways of loving him of course.
What is really beautiful too is that it would not be long between this dinner where he his anointed so sensually and completely and his horrible crucifixion. And while the nails were being slammed into his wrists, while the whip cracked on his back, and while he had to haul himself up for every breath on the cross in such naked and violent agony, he would still have had the residue of the nard on his skin – the aroma would have still been there. The aromatic memory that he was totally loved – that would have been comfort and courage.
This generous sacrifice and most beautiful act of giving all happened at a dinner given in Jesus’ honour. We meet in Jesus’ honour each week.
May our lives be a banquet in honour of this Jesus whose mum would still like to remind us today: “Do whatever he tells you!” And may we pour out our lives and precious ointments at his feet.
Reading: Luke 10:38-42
So how are you when it comes to balancing your life?
Work and pleasure Exercise and rest
Crowds and solitude Noise and silence?
Busyness and devotion? Doing and being?
Being a Martha or being a Mary?
Hospitality has been a big issue in Luke’s gospel as we’ve travelled along through the story.
You will remember the sons of thunder wanting to call down fire on that Samaritan village which was not hospitable to Jesus. They wanted heaven to “nuke” the lot of them.
You may remember the 72 being sent out – and Jesus’ instruction for them to shake the dust off their feet when they did not find children of peace in a place. You only had dust on your feet when people were inhospitable – otherwise they would have washed your feet when you arrived at their place. We have hospitality-lite in New Zealand – people take their shoes off and we are let off the hook.
And of course the forgiving Samaritan who rescued a half-dead Jewish enemy arranged hospitality and paid for the man’s stay in a local inn – extravagantly caring for him. You can’t always sit by someone’s bedside when you have work to do – but you can sponsor someone else – in our day like a hospital chaplain.
Our team today is helping getting patients to the chapel service at North Shore Hospital.
So perhaps Martha is just as right as Mary in this event. We read in verse 38: As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.
There would have been no place for Mary to sit at the feet of Jesus had Martha not opened her home. And I bet they had yummy food.
So there are some simple lessons today.
1. We’re all different – and that’s okay
We’re different in personalities, in gifting, in strengths and weaknesses.
It’s the nature of the body of Christ that the different parts have different functions. Read 1 Corinthians 12 to remind yourself of that.
And you know – and I know – that our bakers and chefs are critical in church growth – even if we are at risk of the wrong kind of expansive growth.
Hospitality is crucial. Martha was good at that. In fact, she is doing Christian ministry – she is serving. Both the word “preparations” and “work” in verse 40 come from the word diakonia – where we get the word deacon from. That’s the role of our board – it’s real ministry doing the practical caring – and the fixing of things..
There are a couple of verses that commend hospitality – including this one from 1 Peter:
1Pe 4:8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.
1Pe 4:9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.
It reminds me of the family who invited church friends around for a meal, and the mum said to the little girl “please say grace”. The child responded: “I don’t know what to say”. Mum replied: “just say the last prayer you heard your father pray”. She did – and prayed: “o Lord why did we invite this lot over for tea?”.
Having said that:
2. Food and entertaining isn’t everything
I think I understand the Martha thing in this sense – you can really go over the top.
Martha seems to be a bit obsessed with all the detail – and frustrated enough to ask Jesus to take sides. Ah the joys of sibling rivalry. “Tell my brother to do this dad! He won’t listen to me” In Jesus’s words she was “worried and upset about many things”.
There’s a good approach to enable you to be more hospitable – people have to take you as they find you. And if they don’t like your chaos – too bad.
If you saw the movie “Amazing Grace” about William Wilberforce, you would have remembered the hosts of people eating at his place, and the fact he had to remove a pet – I think it was a hare – to find a seat for someone.
Biblically – perhaps the key verse to balance this should be this one uttered by Jesus at his temptation: Mat 4:4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
3. Mary chose the what is better – only one thing is needed. (v42)
The quote Jesus uses is from Deuteronomy chapter 8 – here it is in context:
Deu 8:2 Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. Deu 8:3 He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.
To get back to Luke 10, this account is not about women essentially – although it was unusual for women to be in a rabbis group of followers. It’s not primarily about siblings or catering either.
It’s about discipleship. Following Christ changes our focus.
And many other things also crowd out our time – time we need to take to be really still and listen to Jesus’ teaching.
Whether here on a Sunday – or in our personal devotions – or in the invitation he extends for us to take longer time out – retreat days and extended periods of quiet.
Too much of everything else can choke out God’s life in us.
We become dry and spiritually barren.
The active life and the contemplative life are both important.
But it’s better when what we do flows out of who we are.
Being has precedent over doing. We are human beings after all – not human doings.
If we don’t attend to this contemplative life, and listen, study and digest the words of Jesus, we burn out. And we’re no good to anyone or ourselves. “This little light of mine” that we are supposed to shine – goes out.
RISKS FOR THE CHURCH
Apart from our individual lives and walks with God, we also get distracted by the details here.
Keep focus people. Remember that lovely song:
“Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.”
There is a second verse of the song which goes like this: “keep your eyes upon Jesus”. Let’s do that.