The following is one of the sermons I prepared for my preaching course.
The text is John 12:1-8.
You can watch the video of the sermon here.
If you prefer to read it, here you go:
The house is packed, full of family and friends.
Do you hear the sounds of celebration, of pure joy?
This is a marked change from the sounds of mourning and sadness that filled this same house a few days or weeks ago when Lazarus died. When Jesus himself wept.
So why now the sounds of celebration?
Lazarus, who was once dead, is now alive and is hosting a party with his sisters, a party in honor of Jesus, the one who brings the dead back to life.
But then something strange happens.
Do you hear the hush descend upon the house as Mary enters the room and approaches Jesus?
Do you hear the whispers?
Why isn’t she helping Martha serve? Doesn’t she know her place?
Keep your eyes on Mary and what she does next.
She lets down her hair.
Do you hear the whispers becoming more vocal?
This is an outrage! Who does she think is letting down her hair in front of a man who is not her husband! This is not what an unmarried woman does to an unmarried man, in public no less! What a harlot!
Keep your eyes on Mary and what she does next.
She pours expensive perfume over his feet.
Do you hear the whispers continuing?
What?! Does Mary think she is lower than a servant? Why is she debasing herself in this way?
Do you see what Mary is doing?
She is performing an act of pure intimacy and vulnerability.
She is preparing Jesus for his death and burial.
She is anointing Jesus.
Anointing – what the priests did to a king; what Samuel did to David.
But do you notice the difference?
She does not anoint his head. She anoints his feet.
She is performing the act of a priest and proclaiming that Jesus is King.
But by anointing his feet, she is proclaiming that he is a different kind of king, a king unlike the kings of the world.
The whispers finally become an outburst.
Listen to Judas’ indignant response: “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” Mary has gone overboard! That is way too much money
Do you see the disciples nodding in agreement with Judas?
Yes, he’s right! After all, Jesus didn’t you say that you came to “preach good news to the poor”?
Do you see yourself nodding in agreement with Judas?
Yes, $12,000 is a lot of money! We could use that money and give it to the food bank, or start a new program, or to pay down our debts so that we can continue to do ministry!
Now listen to Jesus’ response: “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.”
Do you hear the exasperation and anger in Jesus voice?
Mary understands what Judas and the other disciples don’t seem to get because she is willing to approach Jesus with reckless abandon.
Mary understands that Jesus is a different kind of king, a king who will die so that others may live.
Jesus is a king who brings good news to the poor, releases the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and sets the oppressed free (cf. Luke 4:18).
But what about Jesus’ cryptic response that “you will always have the poor with you but you will not always have me”?
Why does Jesus quote the Torah? (cf. Deut. 15:11) Is Jesus suggesting that he doesn’t care about the poor? That worship is more important than service?
Jesus is responding to her priestly anointing.
Jesus is saying to his disciples, look to Mary as an example of how you should treat the poor in my name.
In performing a priestly duty, we see that Mary represents the Church, the people who are called “a royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9), those who serve in the name of the servant-king.
We see Jesus identifying himself with the poor, those whom the Church is called to serve.
A faithful Church is a Church where the poor are always present and always served – both the physically poor and those whom Jesus calls “the poor in spirit”.
Do you see the connection Jesus is making between worship and service?
The poor will always be with the Church when the worship and service of the Church reflect and grow out of each other.
Do you see him weaving the love of God and love of neighbor into a seamless whole?
The Church is called to love its neighbors, particularly the poor, by showing them the same love they show Christ.
With her anointing, Mary shows the Church how to worship and serve.
With the aroma of Mary’s perfume, the stench of death is gone.
Working in the light of the resurrection, the church brings the aroma of life to a world that reeks of death.
May you, Christ’s royal priesthood, be willing to let your hair down in reckless abandon in order to worship and serve Christ.
May the aroma you release be the aroma of Christ for the world.