“Measuring our Lives”
John 12:1 - 8
Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our creator....
“You are going about this the wrong way,” she said to me.
“You are too conservative and cautious. You need to find something you are passionate about, something you are going to love.”
She was only talking about knitting – I was thinking about knitting another pair of socks, and she was asking me to consider something big, something beautiful – a sweater!
After all, she reasoned, who is going to look at your feet?
And the yarn would cost – oh, somewhere between 150 and 180. “Dollars?”
I was not quite ready for that.
That’s when she rebuked me – and though she didn’t make a sale that day, she gave me a lot to think about
– especially in the light of our gospel story today and the two disciples that we see pictured there: Mary, and Judas.
Yes, we know that Judas the disciple will also become Judas the betrayer, and soon – but no one else knows that yet, as they all gather at Lazarus’ house for dinner, and Martha serves.
Judas and Mary – what a contrast!
Think about it. As the scene opens, Jesus and his disciples are gathered at Lazarus’ house.
Just one chapter before this, Jesus has raised Lazarus from the dead.
Now his family gathers with Jesus and his disciples.
Perhaps Martha wants to show her gratitude by throwing a big dinner party.
She is so grateful that her brother was dead, and is now alive, sitting and eating and talking and laughing. But Mary – Mary steals the show.
We know that Judas is shocked by her actions, but I expect that the other disciples might have been taken aback as well
– the sheer expense of what she did, the way she poured all that perfume over Jesus’ feet – and then wiped his feet with her hair.
That meant that this respectable woman would have had to let her hair down – maybe in this day an age it doesn’t seem like such a big deal, but then, it would have been considered a very provocative act, which possibly embarrassed all the disciples, not just Judas.
So on the surface this seems to be a nice story about Mary’s generosity – but when we look a little closer it is not just a ‘nice’ story, but it is a story about two disciples, and it is a story about what true discipleship looks like.
What does it mean to be a disciple? What does it mean for us to say that we are disciples to Jesus?
To be a disciple is to be a student; Jesus’ disciples followed him, studying and copying and sitting at his feet.
During Lent we practice disciplines of prayer, fasting, service to others.... what does it mean to look at Mary and see that she is a disciple, to see what she did as an example for us?
First of all, if we really picture Mary, we will see that being a disciple involves being around “feet.”
There’s something about feet that really defines discipleship.
Feet get down where the action really is – feet are the part of us that get dirty and smelly – and even more so in Jesus’ day than in ours.
When you walked everywhere, feet could be pretty tired and dirty.
Disciples, too won’t stay where things are clean and fresh and bright, but will go where the action is – where people might be tired and dying, poor and hopeless, hungry and thirsty and homeless. Disciples will get down where the feet are.
Another part of being a disciple has to do with “filling up the house with perfume.”
When Mary broke the jar and poured the perfume over Jesus’ feet, the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
Remember that it had not been that long ago that Lazarus had died and Martha was concerned that his tomb be opened for the smell of death would be there.
Now, a few days later, Lazarus is back from the dead, but perhaps the smell of death still lingers – the pain of missing Lazarus, all the memories of his illness.
Mary’s action covers up all the smells associated with Lazarus’ death, and puts a fresh, new smell in the house. The smell of life, instead.
That is just what disciples are to do. With their presence, the smell of death is covered up with life.
The smell of hatred is covered up with love.
The smell of evil is covered up with good.
In a world that often feels overcome with evil, hatred and death, disciples of Jesus are present with words and actions of goodness, love and life
– pouring out the perfume of their lives over the wounds of the world.
Disciples of Jesus are present in places like Haiti, lifting up the poorest of the poor, rescuing people from the rubble and ruin, comforting and healing.
Disciples of Jesus are in Louisiana and Mississippi, rebuilding houses, in it for the long haul.
But disciples of Jesus are also in other places where there is fear, or death, or hate.
They are at bedsides in hospitals, they are in nursing homes, at funerals.
They are friends, co-workers, neighbors, advocates, grandparents – anyone who is not afraid to walk alongside someone who is lonely,
say a good word when someone is being vilified,
welcome and speak well of the one who is a stranger in a strange land.
Disciples are present among us, too, bringing the perfume of love, healing and goodness wherever there is misunderstanding, where-ever there is separation, where-ever people hurt one another.
And last – and perhaps the most important, being a disciple involves wasting – pouring out – something valuable.
Who was most scandalized by Mary’s action? Judas was.
It seemed like a waste, to use so much perfume. And to be honest, it’s not just Judas who would be scandalized.
I know I would – I’m “too conservative and cautious”, as the yarn store woman put it, and it got to me because I realized that she was speaking truthfully, and she didn’t even know me.
I “measure my life out” in prudent amounts, considering what is wise and what is foolish.
But Mary does not count the count, doesn’t measure little bits, but gives her whole life.
Do you know that 300 denarii was about a year’s wages at that time?
Mary poured a year’s worth of wages over Jesus’ feet.
How was she supposed to live for the next year?
Most people would call Mary foolish for what she did.
It reminds me of how I felt when I heard a story about a man who was giving a presentation on stewardship.
As he spoke, he took a $100 bill and put it n an ash tray and set it on fire.
Everyone was clearly uncomfortable, one person made a comment that he thought that this was illegal, some people joked about it.
The man said, “Do you not understand? I am offering this up to God.
That means it will cease to be useful to the rest of us.”
Still, our discipleship – our lives -- are not measured by what we save, but by what we spend, not by what we conserve, but by what we waste for one another.
It is as Jesus said, “whoever wants to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will save it eternally.”
And there are many examples, even here, of this kind of wastefulness – the choir or musicians who spends hours and hours learning a piece of music which will be heard once
– and then not again – offering up that beauty –
the husband or wife who spends hours every day with their spouse, even when they are no longer recognized
– the little church who gives sacrificially to support a cause they are passionate about....
What is a disciple? Who is a disciple?
What does a disciple look like? A disciple of Jesus is simply one who follows Jesus –
the one who washed his disciples feet, bent down to serve them, the one who loved his enemies, and conquered hate with love, conquered evil with forgiveness, death with life,
and the one who poured out his life, pours out his life for Judas, for Martha, for Lazarus and Mary – for you and me.