What A Waste!
Now, this is a happy scene if ever there was one: A feast, a celebration overflowing with joy in a home that just a few days before was filled with mourning and loss, doubt and despair. It wasn’t long ago that Jesus’ friend Lazarus was dead and in the grave, and his sisters Mary and Martha were weeping and wondering why Jesus had not come when they had asked him to come, asking why God didn’t answer prayer.
But now, Jesus had turned Lazarus’ death into life and Mary and Martha’s mourning has turned to dancing; their sorrow has given way to joy. God, in Jesus, has done something new, something unimaginable. The event we hope for as our distant destiny in God – that is, the resurrection of the dead and the life in the world to come – had come to them in the present. Lazarus was raised from the dead. That’s something to celebrate. They gather and Jesus comes to be with them.
Martha organizes, cooks and serves what must have been a marvelous feast. Martha seems to have a gift for that kind of thing. She shows her love and devotion to Jesus through her hospitality. Lazarus, now more alive than ever, sits at table with Jesus, and Mary takes her place at Jesus’ feet, where she has sat on other occasions to listen to Jesus speak of God’s kingdom coming near.
This time, though, Mary assumes the role of the youngest, lowliest household servant, the one who washes the feet of the dinner guests. She washes Jesus feet, but not with ordinary water. She washes his feet with the most expensive perfume she owns, imported from the East. The aroma fills the house with the luxurious smell of her gratitude and thanksgiving. What love. Yet, faithful, devout Mary cannot seem to do anything without someone having something to say to knock her down.
One time when Jesus came to their house, Mary sat at Jesus feet – like a attentive disciples -- to hear and learn Jesus’ life-giving words. Her sister Martha came into the room in a rage and demanded that Jesus send Mary away with her to do more useful and needful duties, helping her run the busy household. Back then, Jesus came to Mary’s defense and made an example of her time-wasting, work avoiding, grace-seeking behavior. Mary is a model of loving discipleship.
Seems like every time Mary pauses to live and worship in Jesus’ presence she is knocked down and ridiculed for her uselessness.
Now, as Mary’s gratefulness and praise expresses itself in an over-the-top act of adoration, Judas scolds her to Jesus and points out the utter wastefulness of her behavior … again. Seems like every time Mary pauses to live and worship in Jesus’ presence she is knocked down and ridiculed for her uselessness. What a waste! Judas says. But sees her waste for what it is … worship.
Judas, however, is all mixed up. He doesn’t know waste from worship. He sees Mary’s perfume -- it’s costliness and it’s value -- but he cannot comprehend the perfume as a sacred gift of praise and thanksgiving, like an offering of incense or a sacrifice of praise offered by a priest. He certainly doesn’t care about Mary as a human being, loved and rescued by God. Judas doesn’t see or hear the real human need of real, flesh and blood human beings. He sees principles and ideas; problems and solutions; means and ends, but never a grateful younger sister who has seen the glory of God and a vision of the resurrection of the body and life in God’s new creation. Mary has received her brother back from the grave and been given a sure and certain hope of eternal life in Jesus. Mary overflows in love and thankfulness.
Judas can’t comprehend it. Unlike Mary, he has no faith, no love. He’s all business.
But notice in this story, how Judas’ business sense looks to squash Mary in her adoration, her worship, her love for Jesus and her thankfulness for all God’s goodness. He would turn her away from Jesus and make her serve his idea of justice. Judas is all business. Christ Jesus, however, is all love. The two are incompatible. We cannot love God and the business of business. We cannot love God and money.
This conflicted scene holds a mirror up to us. It shows us what we look like as a beloved community of Jesus’ disciples. We do gather in response to God’s gift of life and salvation, to celebrate God’s salvation coming to us here and now. Jesus is with us. We have used what we have and our gifts for hospitality to prepare this place for us to meet and dwell with Christ. In baptism, Christ has raised us from sin and death, given us new life and place at table with him. In prayer, praise and adoration we sit at Christ Jesus’ feet, kneeling in worship. Yet, there’s a Judas in us, in all of us.
We are, I think, a composite of all the characters in this story, we are Martha; we are Lazarus; we are Mary … and always lurking in us is a Judas, ready to betray Jesus for a bag of cash; ready to crush worship and prayer; adoration and praise; for the more important work of raising funds, … for the sake of the poor, of course.
In that, we are all thieves. We steal what God has simply given as good gifts, and we re-approriate them for our own advancement, our own pleasure. How often we look to money to make up what we lack of faith in God, love for God and hope in God. And, even if we love money for noble reasons – helping the poor – it’s still idolatry, because it’s all business. But Jesus is all love.
Jesus is God’s love, visible and active, and God’s love is at work to bring us together into something new and unheard of before. Jesus’ suffering and death for us – the way he loves us so much that he exchanges his death for ours, his life for ours – brings us into a new type of fellowship with God through him, not a business deal, but a covenant based on love. It costs Jesus all he has, his life, to bring us back to God, but we are more than worth the expense. So God thinks so.
In Christ Jesus, God is reconciling us to God and joining us to God’s people in such a way that everything on heaven and earth is changed. Because before poverty, hunger, cruelty and injustice can be removed, a God and God’s people; God’s people and God’s creation have to be reconciled, brought together, re-created. So, what looks like an incredible waste of time – the rest, the peace, the communion in prayer, praise, worship, and thanksgiving, the generous giving, the common table, the common house, the community of equals – is actually a sign of the new thing Christ is bringing to life in the world.
This is a happy, blessed scene if ever there was one, because it speaks to what God has in store for us: A feast, a celebration overflowing with joy because Jesus has turned our mourning into dancing; our sorrow into joy when God raised him from the dead. You are free. Free to sit at Jesus’ feet; free to dine at Jesus’ table; free to live in the joy of God’s presence, forever. Free to give generously to the poor; free to share your food with the hungry; free to be all love … in Jesus’ name. Amen.
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