To set the scene we listen to John 12: 1-8
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 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. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (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.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
Do you have any idea how often Jesus came to our home? Dozens! He was a regular guest… sometimes he just wanted to relax and get away from the crowds, and sometimes he would invite his closest friends to come with him. Our house was ALWAYS open to him.
We had a close relationship with him. Although that relationship was almost broken when he delayed coming when my brother Lazarus died. I couldn’t believe he would ignore our summons and I had been angry! But when I saw how Jesus wept at Lazarus’s death… And then he called him out from the tomb! And Lazarus lived! I think it was then that I became convinced that there was something even more special about Jesus.
He had always encouraged my questions and learning. He had opened up our scriptures in ways that were fresh and meaningful. And there were so many of us who had our hopes pinned on him. But with his teaching and healing, there were some who considered him dangerous. Dangerous? When all he spoke of was God’s love and welcome? And that we to love God and love neighbour.
But of course, to the Romans, that was close to sedition! And I treaded dangerously close when I called Jesus the Messiah. Caesar was supposed to be our only Lord! But I was only a woman… and I could be ignored. Jesus never ignored me… Jesus taught me, accepted our hospitality and treated me as a daughter of Abraham.
And so on that day, that day that is written about in your holy book, that day I anointed Jesus feet with costly oil, that day is forever etched in my memory and my heart. Judas was angry! He said that I should have sold it and given the money to the poor! I don’t’ know why Judas was so angry… there was something troubling him, although he wouldn’t share what it was with us. Isn’t that the way things often unfold. Heartache and hurt get expressed as anger.
Well, yes, I could have sold the oil and given the money to the poor… but that day… that day… I wanted to offer something special to Jesus. He seemed different that day… he was quieter… there was a heaviness that wasn’t usually present… there were deep lines of fatigue etched in his face. And so I called to the maid to bring the perfumed oil… it was special oil… usually reserved for the anointing of the dead… But why should the dead get it? Why shouldn’t it be offered for comfort and healing of the living?
We weren’t a wasteful household, and we weren’t a rich household. But we were comfortable… we had servants to help us. We gave a tenth of what we had to help the poor. And so we had this oil… and I offered it to Jesus.
I knelt down, took off his sandals and poured the oil over his feet… his tired, dusty feet.
As I rubbed it in, I could sense Jesus relaxing into his chair. I could hear him breathing deeper, and with each exhalation, he became more still… And when those tired, dusty feet of his couldn’t absorb any more of the oil, I took my hair and scarf and wiped up the extra. There was an intimacy to my actions and an intimacy to Jesus receiving them. My Lord, so full of love for us… and I was so full of love for him.
Last week, you heard of the extravagant love of the father for his wayward son in the story of the Prodigal Son. And how that love was an indication of God’s love for us, immeasurable love, poured out for us. I poured out that oil on Jesus in the same way… a display of the love I have for him… a display of the comfort I wanted to offer him… a demonstration of my willingness to be part of his ministry.
You know, I like to think that my example gave Jesus the idea at the Last Supper. You know that story too don’t you? Jesus took a basin of water and a towel and he went around and washed our feet. That’s also written in your holy book. He told us that by his example, by my earlier example, we were to serve others. And that when we did those things, we would be blessed.
Yes, I could have sold the oil… but my love for Jesus compelled me to offer what I could in that moment… That moment HE needed comfort… In that moment, he was one of the poor of the world. So I poured out what I had to offer…
You heard Jesus say that the poor are always with us and that he wasn’t always going to be with us. That statement has been so misunderstood throughout the years. Jesus was quoting from our Holy Scriptures.
It is from Deuteronomy 15: 7-11
If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbour.
You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be.
Be careful that you do not entertain a mean thought, thinking, “The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,” and therefore view your needy neighbour with hostility and give nothing; your neighbour might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt.
Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake.
Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbour in your land.”
Open your hand… give liberally and ungrudgingly… Jesus said to us that whenever we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome those who are not like us, visit the sick and imprisoned, we are feeding, clothing and welcoming Jesus.
I did that when I anointed Jesus… I didn’t hoard the oil for my own use… I used to offer healing and comfort to Jesus. We were an oppressed people… but we didn’t have to be defined by those who oppressed us. We were often fearful, just as I think you are sometimes fearful. People haven’t changed that much over the centuries have they?
You are generous when your heart is touched. You pour out the oil of healing. Why, I heard two stories just this week of how you are healing the world! One in which a man’s heart was touched by the cyclones and flooding in Africa. And he sent money… And another, a little girl, who asked for donations to a charitable organization rather than presents for her birthday! Both of those people poured out their oil of healing and comfort.
And you can too… offer the balm of healing love to the world and know that you have offered it to Jesus. Farewell my friends, farewell.
John 12: 1-8
April 7, 2019 – ECM
© Catherine MacDonald