A Pound of Perfume

Anointing of JesusScripture Text:  John 12: 1-11 (Holy Monday)

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.

Wasteful, just wasteful…a pound of perfume, LOTS of perfume…she took, she poured, she wiped. In this reading for today, we find this sort of passive Jesus. He visits the home of friends, the home of those whom he had served, those for whom he had done things. And, it says, they give a dinner for him. Jesus is the guest of honor. After all the doing, after all the action, after all the stuff, all the calling and the healing and the teaching and the table-turning and the miracles, he now spends time with friends. And they serve him. And then the passage tells us that Mary takes a pound of costly perfumed nard, breaks the seal, and lavishly pours it onto Jesus’ feet. Then as the oil runs down his feet and begins to drip to the floor, she wipes his feet with her hair. The whole house is filled with this overwhelming fragrance, sort of similar to a combination of mint and ginseng. It permeates everything with an almost sickeningly sweet aroma.

What in the world was she doing? She is breaking all of the rules. First, she loosens her hair in a roomful of men. Then she pours perfume on Jesus’ feet, which is just not done. The head, maybe, but not the feet. Then she actually touches him and then wipes the oil with her hair. The disciples were appalled. Here is this man who has worked for years to bring peace and justice to the world, to heal others, to end poverty and oppression and you waste this oil by pouring it out on him! That oil could have been sold. Things could have been done with that money! We could have done great ministry with what you just poured on his feet! But you have wasted it! You have squandered it!  Then Jesus responds. “Leave her alone,” he says. You see, she gets it. She understands.

Well, first of all, a pound of perfume is A WHOLE BUNCH of perfume.  If it really was worth what Judas claimed, that would probably be about $30,000 in today’s economy.  I mean, really, think what you could do with that amount of money!  Think of all the ministry you could do.  But, oh, I wish I could be like Mary!  I wish I could take and pour and never count  the cost.  So was it a waste?  Or was it the most extravagant love that Mary felt? And perhaps this was the only way she could show it.  In this moment, she anoints Jesus with a pound of perfume.  The others never really got it that night.  But Mary knew. Mary knew that she had truly entered the Presence of Christ.

Notice the language.  She took, she poured, she wiped.  What she did was sacramental.  It was her becoming.  It was the way she entered that incredible love of Christ.  So, when do we let our lives become?  When do we become sacramental? When do we enter that incredible love of Christ?  It has little to do with what you do or what you say; it has to do with what you give up, with what you surrender without counting the cost.  On this holiest of weeks, we are not called to do; we are called, finally, to become.  We are called to enter that incredible love of Christ.  We are called to walk, pouring ourselves out without counting the cost, even if it takes a pound of perfume.

Our hosannas sung, our palms waved, let us go with passion into this week…. It is a time to greet Jesus as the Lord’s Anointed One,to lavishly break our alabaster and pour perfume out for him without counting the cost. It is a time for preparation. (Ann Weems, Kneeling in Jerusalem)

On this Holy Monday, what do you hold dear?  What are the most important, the most valuable things in your life?  What would you give up, pouring out with utter extravagance, for Christ?

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

 

A Pound of Perfume

Anointing of JesusScripture Text:  John 12: 1-11 (Holy Monday)

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.

Wasteful, just wasteful…a pound of perfume, LOTS of perfume…she took, she poured, she wiped. In this reading for today, we find this sort of passive Jesus. He visits the home of friends, the home of those whom he had served, those for whom he had done things. And, it says, they give a dinner for him. Jesus is the guest of honor. After all the doing, after all the action, after all the stuff, all the calling and the healing and the teaching and the table-turning and the miracles, he now spends time with friends. And they serve him. And then the passage tells us that Mary takes a pound of costly perfumed nard, breaks the seal, and lavishly pours it onto Jesus’ feet. Then as the oil runs down his feet and begins to drip to the floor, she wipes his feet with her hair. The whole house is filled with this overwhelming fragrance, sort of similar to a combination of mint and ginseng. It permeates everything with an almost sickeningly sweet aroma.

What in the world was she doing? She is breaking all of the rules. First, she loosens her hair in a roomful of men. Then she pours perfume on Jesus’ feet, which is just not done. The head, maybe, but not the feet. Then she actually touches him and then wipes the oil with her hair. The disciples were appalled. Here is this man who has worked for years to bring peace and justice to the world, to heal others, to end poverty and oppression and you waste this oil by pouring it out on him! That oil could have been sold. Things could have been done with that money! We could have done great ministry with what you just poured on his feet! But you have wasted it! You have squandered it!  Then Jesus responds. “Leave her alone,” he says. You see, she gets it. She understands.

Well, first of all, a pound of perfume is A WHOLE BUNCH of perfume.  If it really was worth what Judas claimed, that would probably be about $30,000 in today’s economy.  I mean, really, think what you could do with that amount of money!  Think of all the ministry you could do.  But, oh, I wish I could be like Mary!  I wish I could take and pour and never count  the cost.  So was it a waste?  Or was it the most extravagant love that Mary felt? And perhaps this was the only way she could show it.  In this moment, she anoints Jesus with a pound of perfume.  The others never really got it that night.  But Mary knew. Mary knew that she had truly entered the Presence of Christ.

Notice the language.  She took, she poured, she wiped.  What she did was sacramental.  It was her becoming.  It was the way she entered that incredible love of Christ.  So, when do we let our lives become?  When do we become sacramental? When do we enter that incredible love of Christ?  It has little to do with what you do or what you say; it has to do with what you give up, with what you surrender without counting the cost.  On this holiest of weeks, we are not called to do; we are called, finally, to become.  We are called to enter that incredible love of Christ.  We are called to walk, pouring ourselves out without counting the cost, even if it takes a pound of perfume.

Our hosannas sung, our palms waved, let us go with passion into this week…. It is a time to greet Jesus as the Lord’s Anointed One,to lavishly break our alabaster and pour perfume out for him without counting the cost. It is a time for preparation. (Ann Weems, Kneeling in Jerusalem)

On this Holy Monday, what do you hold dear?  What are the most important, the most valuable things in your life?  What would you give up, pouring out with utter extravagance, for Christ?

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

 

Advent 4A: A Little Bit of Water and a Ritz Cracker

Ritz CrackersLectionary Epistle for Reflection:  Romans 1: 1-7

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

First of all, this has to be the king of run-on sentences.  Perhaps Paul was not one for taking lots of breaths.  Or was he almost in a panic-state trying to get the words out?  It was as if his audience was somehow drifting away, heading down a road that he did not think was good, leaving Paul behind in a sense.  So, Paul, with more words than a sentence could hold, went chasing after them.  Whatever it is, Paul is reminding his hearers to whom they belong.  Maybe it was his way of trying to call them away from the lure of the world, from what Paul saw as an almost competing society, a competing way of living and being.  See, these people probably had no problem seeing themselves as belonging to Christ, as part of Christ’s kingdom.  I mean, they were new believers.  They were excited.  They were still pumped up from that first evangelical moment that they had experienced.  And yet, there was the Roman Empire looming large around them.  It was hard to refuse.  Who are we kidding?  It was dangerous to refuse.  One could quickly lose everything.

Now I don’t think Paul really wanted them to leave it all behind.  After all, his own identity as a Jew in the Roman Empire was important to him.  He just wanted them to see something different.  He wanted them to see something bigger.  He wanted them to realize that it was not that the Roman Empire was where they belonged now and the Kingdom of God was where they were going; rather, the two existed together.  He wanted people to understand that the Kingdom of God was not the “other way”, not the veritable opposite of the way they were living but rather the “Thing” that encompassed the “thing”.  And maybe they belonged to both things.  (I mean, in our own context, patriotism is not anti-God; it just has the possibility of developing into sort of a misplaced devotion that competes with our spiritual selves.)  All that we are and all that we have and all to which we belong belongs to God.  It is the way God lays claim on us, bursting into our lives as we know them, pouring the very Godself into each and every crevice of our lives until all (yes, ALL) is recreated in the Name of Christ.  We are called not to choose between Christ and the world but to bring Christ to the world.

The other day I baptized a young child that was eating a Ritz cracker through the whole thing. Now, we don’t usually pass out hor’dourves with the Sacraments, but, really, did that change God’s Presence in that moment?  For that matter, who’s to say that it didn’t make that Presence more real?  (OK, so maybe I’m not as much of a sacramental purist as you thought!)  God’s presence and God’s promise comes wherever one is.  Our calling is to respond to that presence in the midst of the lives we lead.  But that entails learning to see and listen in a way that many of us do not.  We need to appreciate how God calls others into being so that we might be able to better discern our own unique way that God is entering our lives.  And the Ritz?  Well, who hasn’t eaten a Ritz? (And, for me, a little peanut butter)  It is not part of the “other” way of living.  All that we have and all that we are belongs to God.  And, you know, that little bit of water that I sprinkled onto that child’s head does not exist in a vacuum.  The choice is not to choose the water or the Ritz.  The choice is not to choose God or empire.  The choice is to follow God through all that is and all that we encounter, to open oneself to becoming new not instead of the old but as even it is made new.

In this Advent season, we have walked in the wilderness.  We have encountered darkness.  We have waited and waited for God to make the Godself known to us.  Maybe that for which we’ve waited was here all along–in the wilderness, in the darkness, in the Empire.  Maybe God’s Presence is found in all of it when we learn to see, when we learn to open ourselves to possibilities.  Maybe God’s Presence is not some big, flashy extravaganza like we’ve been expecting.  Maybe it’s been there all along, sort of like a little bit of water and a Ritz cracker, or maybe more like a baby born into a world that was not ready, that was never ready, a world that couldn’t move over and make room.  Advent is not about welcoming a King; Advent is about making room for a God who comes into our ordinary lives as an ordinary person into an ordinary place and makes it all extraordinary.  Advent is a lot like eating a Ritz cracker through a Holy Sacrament.

Reflection:  What are you expecting God’s Presence to be?  What is the most ordinary thing that you see right now?  Where might God’s Presence in it?

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

How Much is Too Much?

anointing-jesus-feetLectionary Passage for Today: John 12: 1-11

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.2There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him.3Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.4But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said,5“Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?”6(He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.)7Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.8You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”9When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.10So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well,11since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.

Perhaps no one noticed when Mary got up and left the room.  Perhaps no one noticed when she quietly returned carrying a jar full of oil.  But then they noticed…With drama befitting a king, she raised the jar, broke the seal and in one movement, poured the entire bottle onto Jesus’ feet.  Then as the oil slowly runs down his feet and begins to drip to the floor, she wipes his feet with her hair.  The whole house is filled with this overwhelming fragrance. And the empty jar is cast aside.

In our faith understanding, the Sacrament of Baptism is the beginning of our life as a Christian, a new life in Christ, the beginning of a journey toward oneness with God, toward the life of Christ.  The waters of Baptism remind us of God’s ever-Presence in our lives, of God’s claim on us, and of the great love that God has for us that was revealed in Christ.  It is sacramental because it is God’s love made visible for us.  Through this sacrament, we enter this journey with God.  And the Eucharist is, for us, an entering into that Presence of God.  It makes God’s Presence real.  We don’t understand it.  It’s a wonderful holy mystery.  But somewhere in that bread, somewhere in that juice, is the very real Presence of God.

But you can’t help but listen to the story of Mary’s anointing without hearing the same language—Mary took, poured, and wiped.  We will hear those same words this Thursday in the account of Jesus’ last meal:  Jesus took the bread, poured out the wine, and wiped the feet of the disciples, and through these common gestures and such common touch, Jesus shows us what true love is.  And as Mary takes, and pours, and wipes, she shows that same love toward Christ, and as the storm clouds begin to gather outside, this small crowded house in Bethany becomes a cathedral, the bottle that held the oil becomes a font, and this simple meal becomes a Eucharist. Through her touch, through her love, the ordinary becomes sacred.  Mary enters Jesus’ life and he becomes part of her.  Her life becomes an extravagant sacrament that shows Jesus’ love to the world.  And she, with Jesus, is on the journey to the Cross.  And the whole world is now forever filled with the fragrance of that perfume.

So, how much is too much?  Where did Mary cross the line?  Where was the point when someone could have reasonably said, “stop, that’s enough”?  Well, the truth is, I wish I could be more like her, wish I could give all of myself without holding back, wish I could break the jar and break the rules, and do something extravagant for love rather than for the right reason.  Because in this moment, Mary began walking with Jesus to the cross.  In this moment, she abandoned herself and poured everything out.  In that moment she became sacrament.  I don’t think it was too much.

In this holiest of weeks, become sacrament.  Do not count the cost.  Break the seal and pour yourself out.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli