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Sunday message: Taking offence?

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Fifth Sunday of Lent, April 7, 2019

Scriptures:

Isaiah 43:16-21; Philippians 3:4b-14 and John 12:1-8

Sometimes people have their priorities skewed. It really depends, though, from which point of view a person looks and how much one understands of the big picture. There are even ways in which people can take offence at a well-meant act of kindness.

When Judas points out that 300 days’ salary had just been cracked open and wasted on Jesus, 1.) he’s looking from a financial point of view. Once that expensive perfume was used it couldn’t be used again. It was a limited, one time resource. Can you imagine the good that could have been done for the poor? Judas might even have been taking offence. Try to imagine what our church could do if someone donated one year’s worth of salary out of the blue!

What was Mary thinking? A jar of perfume worth 300 days’ wages? Take away Sundays and that becomes just about a year’s salary.

How often can’t we bring ourselves to use the good china for ourselves? Or for anyone?

What’s more, in our society we have eliminated the sense of smell. Due to potential allergies we don’t want strong odors. We mask them, eliminate them.

Back in Jesus’ time people weren’t, and even still in our day, people in the Holy Land aren’t afraid of smells. It was necessary for quick burials to take place in a warm climate. They loved thick perfumes. This extraordinary item was being saved for a day in the future. Probably her own funeral or the funeral of a loved one.

Suddenly the future is now. She gets it. Unlike the disciples, she knows what lies in store for Jesus. He is going to die. Evidently Mary is the kind of person who buys flowers before a person dies instead of sending them to the funeral home out of guilt. 

In response to those who criticized Mary, Jesus takes time to quote Deuteronomy 15:11: “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.’  “Some people think when the gospel quotes Jesus as saying that we will always have the poor among us, that suggests there is no use in trying to work against poverty since we will never solve the problem. But that ignores what Jesus was saying.

One often hears people quote the words Jesus spoke after his feet were anointed with expensive perfume (John 12:8: “You always have the poor with you”) as justification, somehow, of leaving the poor to their lot. They suggest that even Jesus was saying it’s no use trying to keep up.

We’ve all heard stories about people holding up signs reading “Will work for food” who have been unmasked as frauds, for instance.

Stories about “Welfare queens,” who grow rich off the system get spread. Such situations are very rare, trust me.

Fortunately most Christians, even while practicing some measure of discernment in their stewardship, are more likely to err on the side of charity than sensibility.

If you want to know the truth, sometimes it is the people who have the least who are the most generous. I know people with very little money, limited mobility, and difficult lives, who practice effortless discipleship and limitless charity. God does it through them. For them it’s the most natural thing in the world.

There’s a ghastly — and funny — scene at the beginning of the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The plague is rampant, people are dying, and a man pushes a cart through the muddy streets of a decaying town shouting out, “Bring out your dead!”

One man comes forward with his father over his shoulder ready to throw the body on the cart. There’s just one problem — the father says, “I’m not dead yet.” In the end his son clunks him over the head and throws him in.

Jesus is not dead yet. But there are some who want to clunk Him over the head and speed up the process.

So what is Mary really doing? She is giving Him flowers before He dies.

Mary takes out the funeral perfume, worth 300 days’ pay, and uses it on Jesus. This is her final gift to her Lord. She is not saving the good stuff. She is getting out the good china, the good silverware.

Are we present with the dying? Yes we are. We are all dying. Living is dying. We need to comfort each other and bring hope. We have today to do it. 

Mary is using the good china. She is living the resurrection.

You will know Christ in the poor. You will know Christ in your giving. You will know Christ in your relationships.

This week plan someone’s funeral — perhaps not quite that. But we’re not dead yet! Let’s do wonderful things for the living — and let’s do wonderful things for the living Lord.

Remember as you go about the business of the Lord, there is no pleasing some people. Trust me, we can always find something wrong and take offence with so many things. Jesus is quoting from a Deuteronomy text that makes it clear that rather than criticise others, we ought to get busy ourselves. We ought to pick up our own crosses and follow — it’s a parade. The party starts now. It’s time for the big show. And the parade continues past palms to crosses and beyond to glory, as the next Sundays unfold.

 

1.) This message is based on a sermon by Frank Ramirez, by the title “No Pleasing Some People” as part of a Lent-series “You are here!” on sermons.com (subscription required)

 

Copyright 2019 – Heinrich Grosskopf, Minister of Dayspring Presbyterian Church

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