3rd April St Mary’s Bures John 12:1-8; Phil 3:4a-14
We think of riddles mostly with Christmas Crackers. When we delve into today’s reading I think we uncover a riddle of sorts. We read about life and death and death and life. We read about anointing a living king and at the same time anointing him at his burial.
It all starts in the previous chapter in John. There we read the account of Lazarus dying and Jesus bringing him back to life. Martha comes to meet Jesus and complains ‘if you had been here Lazarus would not have died’ She knew he could heal people and prevent death.
The conversation then turns to the subject of resurrection and Jesus assures Martha that he was the resurrection and the life. Perhaps not fully understanding the implications, Martha at least declares her confidence that Jesus is the long expected Messiah come to save God’s people. Jesus goes on to demonstrate his divine authority by calling Lazarus to life out of the tomb, to everyone’s amazement.
It is with this event still buzzing amongst the people that Jesus again visits his friends in Bethany just before the Passover. Some think he is taking a risk because the chief priests and the Pharisees had declared their intention of getting rid of this troublesome man.
The people are seeking Jesus to see more miracles;
the Pharisees are seeking him to kill him.
But there was Jesus and his disciples, enjoying a meal at the home of Lazarus, Martha and Mary. The picture is similar to a previous visit to this home in Bethany. Then Lazarus is amongst the men listening to Jesus’ teaching, Martha is busy with the food preparations as would be expected of the women. Mary steps out of line and goes and sits with Jesus soaking up all she can from this amazing teacher.
This time around it is again Mary who steps out of line and not only goes into the room where the men are gathered but does this amazing, extravagant act of anointing Jesus’ feet. Extravagant because of the quantity of nard, over 300 gms or 11-12 oz. Its monetary value is made clear by Judas’ cynical remark about selling it to give to the poor.
I wonder if this was an agreed plan between the 3 siblings. I somehow think it might have been, not just a sudden whim of Mary’s. They have all come to know Jesus in a very different way. Mary’s actions make it clear that they believed Jesus is the Messiah sent by God, come to save them in a way the kings of Israel’s past failed to do. The extravagant anointing was only fitting for God’ chosen King and Messiah.
Imagine the mixed emotions that went through that scene; criticism, bewilderment, joy and full agreement, questioning what it really meant, what will happen next?. They would all have been familiar with the use of nard in the worship at the Temple and of course the anointing of kings and priests called by God. Jesus reprimands Judas , and praises Mary, she has done this beautiful thing FOR HIS BURIAL. ! Riddles and surprises. Dead Lazarus is brought back to life, the living Messiah, the hope of the nation, chosen by God, about to be buried – killed? The Messiah was supposed to come to save not to succumb to defeat. What was it all about? I’ve a feeling Mary was as perplexed as anyone.
John makes it clear that he was writing his gospel so that people would believe that Jesus was the Christ/Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing they may have life in his name. How was that life in his name to be achieved? By ousting the Romans? Oh no.
John the Baptist describes Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Those who heard it would know that lambs meant sacrifice , and sacrifice meant forgiveness.
The riddle of Lent is no laughing matter. We need to take seriously the death and burial of the Son of God. Death was the only way this Lamb of God could save his people from their sins, us from our sins, once and for all.
When Jesus tells the company that the anointing was to his burial he is telling them that his death, and the burial that followed, was no accident or a mis-carriage of justice by the Pharisees and other religious rulers of the day. It was planned. He knew he was to be the Lamb of God
We’ve heard what Mary did. She broke that lovely alabaster jar with that great quantity of pure nard and, in anointing him, gave it ALL to Jesus, such was her love for him and her need to show it in worship.
From his letter to the Phillipians, Paul shows us what he did. He had been proud of who he was in the religious and national scene. He had it all; small in stature he might have been but big in self-confidence and status…… Until Jesus met with him. Then he writes ….. whatever was my profit I now count as loss for the sake of Christ. I consider it rubbish that I may gain Christ and be found in him.
The riddle of Lent. We begin with Ash Wednesday, from dust you were formed and to dust you shall return, reminding us of our frailty and need for confession in order to receive forgiveness. Are we humbly approaching Jesus , the sacrificial Lamb of God, conscious of our sins? Are we shattering those precious things of our own making to gain Christ and be found in him?
Lent ends with Easter because we know that Christ is risen, ascended and sitting on the throne of God’s Kingdom. Are we EXTRAVAGANT in our worship of Jesus the Christ, the Lamb of God? Worship inspired by an overwhleming awareness of God’s saving grace?
Yes that is the riddle of Lent. Christ died and was buried in order to live again into eternal kingship. Let us meet him at the cross, acknowledge our failures and receive his forgiveness and be welcomed into his kingdom.
Then we come alive to praise and worship the one who made it all possible, Jesus the Lamb of God.