Monday in Holy Week
Verses: John 12:1-11
John 12:1-11 English Standard Version, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers]
1Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. 3 Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, 5"Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?" 6He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. 7Jesus said, "Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. 8For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me." 9When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, 11because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.
In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Now this is not a comparable analogy at all, but let me use it anyway.
An inventor announced that he had not only invented and had ready for sale a device for $20 that could produce electricity in your own home from household trash but that next month his company would be selling cars for $5,000 that ran on tap water. People began to line up to buy these utterly life-changing inventions, but, of course, not everyone was happy. It wasn’t just the companies that sold electricity or cars or gas that were upset by these inventions. Hundreds of thousands of workers began to be put out of work by these inventions, and then all the pension funds that were heavily invested in traditional industries were suddenly in serious trouble affecting even more people.
Now after $5,000 cars that ran on tap water were changing the world, the same inventor announced the sale of a $10,000 device that cured any disease and reversed the aging process. Suddenly hundreds of thousands of medical personnel were out of work along with everyone in the pharmaceutical companies and countless related businesses. People that had been helped most by this inventor called him the greatest man that had ever lived, but the economy was in freefall and most people were saying this man was the most dangerous person that had ever lived. And there was a raging debate everywhere about whether the man was good or evil.
Now it seems the same inventor announced that his company was about to release a product that would make all the most sophisticated weaponry in the world non-functioning, and that was it. Governments the world over decided this man and his company had to go before he destroyed what little order was left in the world. Presidents went on national TV to say that if something was not done right away, terrorists the world over would have free rein. Almost everyone had to agree this man and his company had to go before it was too late.
So the man and his closest friends and family went into hiding despondent that all the good they felt the man had done was unappreciated. Some of them were saying he was the most misunderstood person that had ever lived. His sister, whose husband her brother’s device had cured of terminal cancer, gave him a gorgeous $10,000 suit. It was patently obvious when the man would need this suit, but his business partner who was suddenly very worried about his own future said: “Mary, that suit probably cost $10,000. A lot of people in the world could have benefited from that money. We could have given away one of our healing machines for the price of that suit.” And the man said: “Judas, leave my sister alone!”
Well, as I said, this is not a comparable analogy, but it begins to get at why so many powerful people wanted Jesus dead. Every good deed has its consequences, and not everyone is made happy by good deeds…especially when someone perceives the doer of good deeds as a threat to their very way of life. One would think that no one could ever find fault with something that benefitted others, but we forget (at our peril) that sin is the only observable, measurable doctrine of the Church. The heart curved in upon itself is always more ready to prize our own well-being over that of others.
In today’s Gospel, we have a glimpse of the funereal practices of that day. Before they were placed in family tombs, bodies were wrapped in linen cloths and anointed with expensive perfume to mask the odor of death. Mary’s anointing of Jesus’ feet was not only prophetic. It was an intimate gesture that would have offended pious people then as much as it would today. This event at the start of Holy Week begins to paint Judas in darker tones preparing us for his act of betrayal, and John draws our attention to the malevolence of the religious leaders that cannot let Jesus, or for that matter Lazarus, live.
Because almost everyone knows the ending of the story, this is like watching a slow-moving train wreck. Almost everyone knows what is coming next, but the story has to play out step by step, scene by scene. Indeed that is the purpose of daily worship in Holy Week. We are walking with the Lord Jesus, because we love Him and because we know this story is for us and our salvation.
Something more than understanding is called for by this text. Indeed the Holy Spirit is calling us into the story to find ourselves. How are we like Mary? How are we like Judas? How are we like Lazarus? How are we like the religious leaders? Right now there is hardly time to pause for serious reflection. Rather the Holy Spirit is planting the Word of God in us today, so that it can be like a slow-release medicine that works its way into the sick and wounded places of our lives, making us self-aware and vulnerable to God’s healing work in us.
Gathering today is a gift, for this is not a time of mere recollection or even sincere observance of what Jesus once did. No, Christ Jesus God’s dear Son is present and he smells the deadly odor that emanates from each life here. He knows us all the way to the core of our being. No motive is unknown. No thought or doubt or fear or distrust is hidden. The Lord Jesus sees through us, the Great Physician diagnosing His patients. But that is not the extent of His seeing.
The Lord Jesus gives us His own body and blood in bread and wine as the medicine of immortality, as the promise of complete healing, as the forgiveness that cannot leave us alone in all our sickness unto death.
Let us not leave this gift unopened today by pious casual regard for the real presence of God’s crucified and resurrected Son Jesus. Rather let us go out to reflect upon what this means for the places we go the rest of today and for the people we are with both a little while and a lot.
So, where are you in the story…as Mary…as Judas…as the religious leaders…as Lazarus...as one who cannot not know what she or he has seen and heard and smelled and touched and tasted and thought and felt today!
In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
©Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS
St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church
Wilmington, North Carolina USA