Pastor Annabelle P. Markey
Year C – Fifth Sunday in Lent
Community Lutheran Church, Sterling, VA – April 7, 2019
Contrary to what we may hear when we listen to this text, it is not about Mary annoying Jesus with lard. While that’s a hilarious thought, but it’s just not quite accurate. Although Judas is truly annoyed with what occurs during dinner at the home of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary.
This is the Mary of Mary and Martha fame. The one who boldly sits at Jesus’ feet to listen to and learn from him. And just prior to this morning’s scene, these sisters have experienced the death of their beloved brother Lazarus. When Jesus arrives at his friends’ home, Martha meets him, and later brings her sister Mary. John’s Gospel puts it this way, “When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.” It makes it sound like it is, at least in part, Mary’s heart – her emotions – that prompts Jesus to raise Lazarus from the dead.
Now, Mary is once again, humbly at Jesus’ feet, sharing gratitude at a dinner her family is throwing for Jesus. She anoints his feet before he even washes the disciples’ feet before the crucifixion. She understands what it is to be a disciple – she listens and learns from Jesus, she has incredible faith and trust in who Jesus is, and she is courageous and vulnerable. She gets it and models what it is to be a follower of Christ.
Judas, however, can only see what he wants to see. He can’t see a beautiful act of love, just a waste of money. For whatever reason, we are told he had decided to steal from the common purse. Thinking of his own gain, his heart had been hardened and embittered so that he couldn’t see things as they were. Judas is the anti-disciple. But both Mary and Judas play a role in preparing Jesus for what is to come – Judas with his betrayal and Mary by anointing him for his burial.
Mary’s action and her love flow freely from her heart. We never hear if she had a conversation with her siblings about what she was going to do. She and Jesus don’t even have to say anything to each other. With the Pharisees seeking to arrest Jesus after the raising of Lazarus, Mary knows that he will die soon and so she seizes the opportunity to show him her gratitude, devotion, and love in the way that she knows best. She doesn’t worry about what the disciples or anyone else thinks. And Jesus silently welcomes her loving deed. It’s tender and very intimate, with nothing needing to be said. She sees him and he sees her. They understand one another.
It takes a lot of strength and courage to be that vulnerable. She puts herself out there risking rejection not only from the disciples, but maybe also from Jesus. She leaves herself open to ridicule and scorn and she definitely receives it from Judas. But she is driven to show her love and thankfulness and she knows time is growing short.
The cast of the new Queer Eye show call the people they work with and help makeover “heroes.” When late night host Stephen Colbert asked them why they explained that it was not only because these people are often doing amazing things, but because they also have the courage to be vulnerable and open in front of the whole world. And for that, they are heroes. In that way, Mary is a hero in this story. But we, too, are called to be those kind of heroes, opening up and pouring out love and gratitude. And it will look different for each of us.
For Martha, gratitude looked like serving at a dinner party in Jesus’ honor. For Mary, it looked like spending a year’s worth of wages on perfume to bless and care for Jesus. And while we don’t hear what Lazarus did, both the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches say he later served as bishop.
Lately, I’ve had the opportunity to explore gratitude in a new way, too. My brother Zack is two years younger than I am. He’s a trained welder, incredibly smart, creative, and quick-witted. While we had our rough moments during high school, he’s my 6’4” baby brother and I love him dearly. After working as a welder for a few years, he’s had a string of odd jobs, but never quite found anything that worked for him – that he really loved. He is finally working in a really cool job, converting vans into RV type tiny homes. He loves it because it gives him a chance to be creative and use his construction skills and not be confined to an office, which would make him crazy! My heart overflows with gratitude to see him doing well and really alive. He’s filled with joy in a way I haven’t seen in a long time. Like Mary thankful for her brother’s new life, I am deeply thankful to God for the new life I see springing up in my little brother. For me, that gratitude has been finding expression in happy tears, prayers, songs, and wonderful conversations with Zack.
We are constantly told we don’t have enough, that we are deficient in some way, that we are missing something. There’s even “FOMO,” the “fear of missing out.” All of this scarcity mentality kills our gratitude and stifles our ability to see the amazing abundance we have been given. Theologian Karl Barth even went so far as to say “basically, all sin is ingratitude.” We fail to recognize that our very lives are precious gifts. Or that God has given everything to be with us and show us how much God loves us. And that’s a sin because we are succumbing to the lie of scarcity. We fail to believe God’s goodness and grace are really and truly sufficient. Or, that we, too, have been made in God’s image and are enough. That, too, is a sin. As Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
Mary understood this. She understood that whereas the thief had destroyed her family’s world and economic stability when death claimed her brother, Jesus came bringing life abundant for Lazarus and each of them. She understood that there was no sum of money too great to show her appreciation and love for the One who had shown her abundant life. She understood that it was good and right to be absolutely overflowing with thanks and praise, even to the point of looking foolish. She understood that practicing gratitude nurtures compassion, tenderness, and strength in us. It is the antidote to the hard-heartedness and selfishness Judas shows.
Because God has given us everything, we are called to live lives of lavish sharing, love, and effusive compassion and empathy like Mary. Because God has shown us unrestrained love and mercy, God desires our honest, extravagant worship in response. We are called to abundance, joy, and life overflowing. We are also called to rest and rejuvenation. And if you say you don’t have the time, that’s also one of scarcity’s lies! It just might mean reprioritizing and dropping things that really aren’t important or life-giving.
As we close of the first quarter, we currently have a deficit. And we’d really love to get off the roller coaster of having or not having enough. I believe that we can achieve the vision God has stirred up within us. When we respond to what we have so generously been given like Mary did that day in Bethany, we transform lives and our community. We impact local groups with our benevolences and strengthen our faith formation so that new generations can grow in grace through our “Building Up” appeal.
Have you been self-conscious about what others would think if you shared love, gratitude, and praise freely and joyfully? Have you avoided or fought vulnerability and openness, fearing the risk involved? Have you neglected to pray or serve as you felt called because you worried about what others might think? Have you put off saying something to someone or showing them how you feel because you thought you’d do it later? Life is not certain. Nothing is a given. If we are wise, we won’t pass up the opportunity to show love and care, to seek and grant forgiveness. Why squander the love we could be so freely giving?
Mary responds to Jesus’ action in her life with an outpouring of love, humility, vulnerability, gratitude, service. We’re told that the fragrance of the perfume filled the house. But even more, her act perfumes the lives of those who witnessed it and heard about it. They were changed by the excessive gift she gave. We, too, are called to share our gratitude in our lives. As David Steindl-Rast says, “let the gratefulness overflow into blessing all around you.” Like living containers of God’s grace, we are blessed to be a blessing. And we already have everything we need to do this.
Mary’s response to God’s abundant love and life shows us a way of extravagant joy, courage, strength, and gentleness that is capable of perfuming and freshening the world. Through Christ’s death and resurrection, we have been given life abundant. How will you respond and live abundantly in response? There’s no time like the present. Amen.