My sermon for this week was based on John 12:1-11.
To download a podcast of my sermon, click here.
If you knew that someone you loved was going to die in a week, how would you react? If you knew that you only had one week left with your partner, parent, child or close friend, what would you say to them? What would you do with them?
Would you go on a trip together? Sit and stare into each other's eyes? Share a bottle of Scotch? Watch a sunset together? Tell them you loved them?
Here is perhaps the more important question: why don't we do that anyways?
Most of us seem to live our lives as though we and those we love will live forever, and sometimes this means that we take them for granted. Maybe it is just that we don't want to contemplate their mortality or our own, but it is certainly something that Mary openly contemplated in the Gospel passage for today.
The scenario is ostensibly simple enough: Jesus and his disciples are eating at Mary and Martha's house. These are the sisters of Lazarus, and he is also there. Seemingly out of nowhere, Mary breaks open a jar of perfume and anoints Jesus' feet, drying them with her hair.
The washing or anointing of feet was traditional in Jesus' time. In a hot, dry climate in which people had to walk everywhere, the first thing a guest would want to do when arriving at a host's house would be to wash and refresh their feet. Washing and anointing of feet was something that only the lowliest of servants would do for guests. That Mary stoops to this act marks this as a very meaningful moment in their relationship because Mary was not Jesus' servant. It was an act of service and humility on Mary's part. It was an act of love that was tender and intimate.
Judas is annoyed by this act, and comments that the perfume could have been sold to feed the poor. Jesus rebukes Judas however, and makes the rather confusing statement, "You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me".
This statement confuses me because from what I know of Jesus, he didn't seem to be the type of guy to appreciate people fawning all over him in servitude, and he certainly did not seem given to extravagance and luxury. Mary's gesture was all of those things, and it seems unlike Jesus to prefer this over helping those in need.
But I think Jesus recognizes one thing: he is not the most important person in the story. Mary is.
We know that this dinner took place 6 days before the Passover, so a week before Jesus was taken into custody by the Romans, tried and executed. Mary was not an idiot. She was well aware that Jesus had inspired the wrath of the Pharisees and the Romans, and that Jesus was walking into the proverbial Lion's Den by making his way towards Jerusalem. Perhaps she didn't know that he was going to die, but she certainly must have known this was a distinct possibility. Consequently, she feels moved to show Jesus how much she cares for him because she realizes she may never get another opportunity to do so.
Have you ever just felt the need to tell someone you love them or value them? Have you ever felt overwhelmed with the desire to do something for someone, to treat them or honour them?
I think this was what Mary was experiencing, and Jesus understood that it was important for her to do this for him. Although Jesus might very have felt awkward being fawned over, her recognized that she wanted to express to him how much she loved him and valued him.
The first thing most people say when you give them a gift is, "Oh, you shouldn't have". But hopefully we do not honour others because we feel we should, but because we want to. It is important for us to take the opportunity to let people we know we value them, and maybe we ought to do it more often.
Let's not wait until it is too late.