Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year C, March 17th, 2013
Isaiah 43:16-21, Psalm 126, Philippians 3:4b-14, John 12:1-8
Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Augustana and Birka Lutheran Churches, Underwood, ND
May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, my rock and my redeemer.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
If you were here Wednesday night, you would have heard another story of a woman anointing Jesus with oil. And, like the story in today’s Gospel, those watching were not happy about it. In the story from Luke that we read on Wednesday, the Pharisees were upset because Jesus was allowing such liberties from a sinner. In today’s story from John, Judas was upset because the money that could have been given to the poor was spent on useless luxuries.
Both objections are very common-place ones, that we have all probably thought or felt at one time or another. As for the woman in Luke, that sinner, well, there are people in the world who are untrustworthy and just seem to be worse than anyone else. Even if you forgive their sins, if you allow them into your fellowship, you run the risk of being hurt or injured by them again. And you run the risk of being tarred by the same brush. And you run the risk of other people being led astray, because surely, if what that sinner did was so bad, you wouldn’t be letting them participate. So letting in sinners is risky business.
As for the extravagance of Mary’s perfumed oil, well, any time you talk about money in a religious context, two subjects come up: maintaining the building, and giving to those who are in need. Because obviously, Jesus wants us to love others with deeds as well as with words. There are so many needs in the world, so many people who need help, whose lives can be dramatically improved with a few gifts. And there are so many passages in the Bible that talk about justice for the poor, about providing for those who are worse off than you. If you see someone in need, you’re supposed to help. And that perfumed oil was about a year’s salary for a day laborer—that was a serious extravagance! What a difference that money could have made in the lives of so many people!
So it’s hard not to be sympathetic to Judas and the Pharisees. Yes, inviting in sinners and welcoming them is risky. Yes, that perfume Mary used was very expensive, and think of all the good that could have been done with it! Any half-way rational person who knows the Scriptures would have pointed it out as well.
And yet. And yet, Jesus rebukes both the Pharisee and Judas. They have the details correct, but they have completely missed the big picture. They are focusing on the little stuff: how we should handle ordinary daily life. And they are so focused on that, on keeping on with their ordinary lives, that they completely miss that things are not ordinary. They completely miss that their handling of the details is getting in the way of the big picture.
Yes, we can’t just ignore sin, and sometimes we need to speak up about sinners. Yes, we should love the poor, and work to bring justice and abundant life to all people. But that must always, always be done in the light of Christ. All of our lives as faithful followers of Jesus Christ need to focus on the big picture of who Christ is and what Christ has done for us, as part of God’s plan for us and for all of creation.
God created the world, and God created it to be good. God created all of humankind to be good. God created the world abundantly, a world stuffed to the gills with wonderful things. God created a world in which there is more than enough to go around for all. But humans sinned. Humans sin, and that sin has broken all of creation. Instead of love, there is oppression and hate. Instead of abundance for all, there is scarcity and hoarding. Instead of building one another up, we tear one another down.
We have fallen from what God wants us to be, but God has never stopped seeking us out. God comes to us where we are and forgives our sins, and lifts us up out of the holes we dig for ourselves. God’s goal isn’t just to patch over the holes. God’s goal isn’t just to save the nice people and forget about the rest. God’s goal isn’t just to put a fresh coat of paint over the decay. God isn’t just trying to fix a few things here and there, measuring out justice like a teaspoon and mercy by the cup to people dying of thirst.
No, God is creating something new. God is doing a new thing. Now it springs forth, do you not see it? God is restoring the world, recreating it through the life and death of the Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. From the cross of Christ flows forth love and mercy and forgiveness and renewal like water from a fountain in the desert. That love and mercy and forgiveness and justice overflow all the boundaries we humans would set for them. From the cross of Christ flows forth the kind of abundant life God wants for us and for all of creation.
That spring of life that comes from God refreshes and renews us, but it hasn’t yet filled the whole world. The new thing God has done in Jesus Christ has begun, but it has not finished. The new creation will not be here until Christ comes again. Until that time, we live caught between the old, sinful, broken world, and the new creation God brings. We live caught between our old, sinful, broken selves and the new, forgiven and whole selves God is creating in us.
The question is, what are we going to do in the mean time? How are we going to live our lives? Are we going to put our confidence in our old selves, in the old broken world that we see around us that we understand all too well? Or are we going to put our confidence in the resurrection? Are we going to seek the power of Christ’s resurrection, or are we going to stay in the muck and mire that drags us down and traps us in sin? Are we going to remember that Christ has made us his own through our baptisms, has claimed us and redeemed us, or are we going to focus on the broken world around us?
If we are going to press on towards the goal of Christ, if we are going to live in the power of the resurrection, that means we have to change how we see the world around us. We have to look and see the abundance of God’s mercy not just for us, but for all people. We have to remember that our God is the god of abundance, not scarcity.
The Pharisee from Wednesday night’s lesson was offended that Jesus forgave a sinner and accepted her gift. Yet we know that all human beings are sinners, and that Jesus came to save all of humanity. We know that forgiveness is a gift for all, because Jesus died for all. And yes, we are called to speak out against sin—but we must always remember that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and that God loves every single one of us, no matter how far astray we go. Jesus didn’t come to Earth to condemn people or exclude them, but to seek out all the lost, all the sinners, all who have gone astray. The Pharisee focused on the details of the sin, but not on the big picture of God’s mercy for all.
Judas in today’s lesson was offended that Mary’s perfume was used so extravagantly. It could have been sold, and the money used for the poor! We are told by the Gospel writer that Judas used to steal from the common purse, giving him an unsavory motivation for his anger. But many good Christians who don’t steal from the offering plate would agree with him. Hungry people could have been fed with that money! Sick people could have gotten medicine! But Jesus said that Mary was in the right. Now, obviously, Jesus who spent so much time feeding hungry people and healing sick people approved of giving to those in need. The problem isn’t wanting to help people. The problem is the mindset of scarcity.
God created a world with abundance for all. Yet we believe, deep in our heart of hearts, that there isn’t enough. So we hoard what we have instead of sharing it, and some people have far more than they need, and others have nothing. Did you know that the world produces enough food every year to feed every person alive today? Yet people die of starvation because they cannot afford food, or cannot get to it. God created a world with enough abundance to provide for the needs of all, and we remain trapped in our belief in scarcity. There is enough for all; there is enough to provide for the poor and to give extravagant gifts of love to God.
We see brokenness and sin around us every day. We live in a world broken by sin and death, a world afraid of not having enough. We know that God is doing a new thing; we know that salvation and new life comes through Christ Jesus. We know that even death itself will be swallowed up in the power of Christ’s resurrection. We know that we, too, will be raised, and we know that God’s kingdom of abundant life and love and mercy will come. Yet like the Pharisee, and like Judas, too often we muddle along in our every-day concerns, instead of knowing Christ and experiencing the power of his resurrection. May we learn to press on towards Christ, and to see the world through his eyes: sinners forgiven, justice for the oppressed, and abundant life for all.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.