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Verses: John 12:1-11


John 12:1-11 [NRSV Text from BibleWorks]

1 Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3 Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus' feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5 "Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?" 6 (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) 7 Jesus said, "Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me." 9 When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, 11 since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.


In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

In the 15th chapter of Luke’s Gospel, the Lord Jesus tells several parables of lostness and foundness – about the joy in heaven when the lost repent and are found. When a shepherd finds a lost sheep, Jesus says people celebrate. When a woman finds a lost coin, she calls in her neighbors to celebrate. When a lost son returns home, the waiting father celebrates – but his jealous older brother refuses to come to the party.

Here in John’s Gospel, there’s a party going on in Bethany, a village just a short distance from Jerusalem. Once again Jesus is in the home of Mary and Martha, this time not for Lazarus’ wake but for his welcome home party. Lazarus was dead, and now he is alive again and sitting at the table with Jesus. Again Martha is serving the guests and again Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus. Apparently Jesus didn’t read the recent news reports that prayer doesn’t work. Otherwise he wouldn’t have even tried to raise Lazarus from the dead!

So there’s a party going on at Mary and Martha and Lazarus’ house, but this time there’s a strange twist. Normally when guests come over their heads are anointed with oil. But here Mary has broken open a jar of precious perfume and is anointing Jesus’ feet with it. Furthermore, Mary has let down her hair in public – an extraordinary and unheard of act of devotion – and is wiping Jesus’ feet with her hair. Her beloved brother was dead and now he is alive again. How could she not celebrate in such an extraordinary fashion? The Lord Jesus has given back her beloved brother. Surely Dan Brown, the Oliver Stone of fiction, will turn this story into his next golden goose – perhaps The Bethany Affair! Oh, the shock! Oh, the shame of it! Jesus and a different Mary carrying on behind poor Mary Magdalene’s back and right there in public. Didn’t he read The DaVinci Code? Doesn’t Jesus know He’s supposed to be Mary Magdalene’s husband?

Of course, some people just can’t stand a party. Judas in John’s Gospel apparently hasn’t read the recent news reports that he is Jesus’ best friend (see the gasping wire reports about the recent discovery of a Gnostic Gospel of Judas). Here in John’s Gospel Judas is planning to betray Jesus. Here Judas is an embezzler who normally takes from the disciples’ common funds. He sees Mary wasting a vial of perfume on Jesus – a vial that would have cost almost a year’s wages – and he almost loses his supper. What a waste on a guy that’s about to get whacked! Of course, he can’t say that in public, so Judas complains that the vial should have been sold and the money given to them to care for the poor – like that’s what Judas has in mind!

In Matthew’s Gospel when Jesus is being tempted by Satan, he quotes Deuteronomy at the old enemy. Here the Lord Jesus knows who it is that owns Judas’ heart, so he quotes from Deuteronomy 15: “Don’t worry, Judas, there will always be the poor and needy with you the rest of your life. You’ll get your chance to be generous with them. But let’s talk about the mouse in the cheesecake, Judas; let’s talk about my pending death! Mary is preparing my body for burial.” End of episode.

John comments that word got around that Jesus was back in town. Unlike Mack the Knife and the chief priests, Jesus brings life and not death. People are astounded that Lazarus who was dead is alive again. It causes many of them to believe that Jesus is God’s Messiah. So the chief priests add Lazarus to their hit list. Before this party ever happened, they had already decided that Jesus had to go!

The Eucharist today is a party. You, like Mary of Bethany, have done something extraordinary. You have given up an hour of your valuable time on a Monday in Holy Week to be with Jesus. With your life you have said that He is your greatest treasure, and so you have given Him a token of your life. But, at the same time, it is not we who have thrown the party today for Jesus, but Jesus who has thrown a party for us who were lost and are now found, who were dead in our sins but are now alive in Him. He has raised us from the dead through the miracle of our Baptism!

He says to us again this week: “I treasure you more than I treasure my own life.” And we, like Mary, say in return to Him: “You, Lord, are the priceless Treasure of my life. I give you my heart, my calendar, my wallet, indeed my life in thanksgiving for what you have given me! I will care for your poor as you have cared for me.”

Come, dear sisters and brothers, come eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood given and shed for you for the remission of your sins. Come, receive His endless life and know that you are held in God’s love and God’s mercy forever!”

©Samuel D. Zumwalt
St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church
Wilmington, North Carolina

[An mp3 version of this sermon will be available by Monday afternoon at www.stmatthewsch.org]