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Sermon for Lent 5 Year C Anointing

February 22, 2016

anointOintment. Expensive ointment (from an idea in Just Say the Word – G. R. Jacks Erdmans 1996)

But I had to do something for him. The sweet oil flowed thickly over his feet, and I caressed the ointment into his skin.

Auddenly Judas shouted “Fool! That oil could have been sold for a small fortune! The money we could have given to the poor! Now it’s gone! Wasted!”

My eyes burned as I realised what I’d done. The broken jar. The oil on my hands. It was wasted!

And then . . . he spoke. “Leave her alone..” She’s done a beautiful thing for me. She understands … what’s going to happen. She has anointed me . . . for my burial. You can always help your poor people. I’ll not be with you much longer. She knows that.

I stood there suddenly calm. “He knows me better than I know myself,” I realised. “He understands how I feel about him.”

Sorry, I have not introduced myself. I am Mary the evangelist Sister of Martha, who founded the church in our small suburb of Bethany (The Bible and Liberation – N. Gottwald SPCK/Orbis 1993)

Jesus liked to visit us. He could put his feet up and be a man as well as messiah. Food graciously prepared. Me and my sister arguing late into the night. His ideas made me question everything I had ever known and unthinkingly accepted. His words challenged me, infuriated me, changed me. When he came to our house that day he was Jerusalem’s most wanted man. We took him in and cared for him, shutting out the world for this one night at least. He was fairly safe this side of the Jordan. We made him supper.

Martha was in charge, of course. Lazarus was still clumsy from his four days in the tomb. Handling the paring knife like a tree saw and staring at the potato in his hand as if he’d never seen one before. So Martha gives him a wooden spoon and asked him to keep stirring (Bread of Angels – B. Taylor Cowley 1997)

I slipped out while they were all busy. The flask of nard was left over from Lazarus’ funeral

I’ve reflected on my actions ever since. I wrote a gospel but the men didn’t see fit to include it in their bible. They tried to write me out of the story. Peter reckoned he was the first to recognise Jesus as Christ at Caesarea Philippi. Mark wrote it up ut John wrote that I recognized him as the Christ when he first came to our house. Peter and the other men were confused right up to the crucifixion. That’s because they didn’t listen properly. Men never do.

When the men took over the leadership of the church and pushed us women out. They tried to blacken my name. They linked me with Mary the sinner, even called me a prostitute. Well, we’re all sinners. In the Talmud, the Jewish law book, a woman could be stoned for letting her hair down in the company of a man but not with your family. And Jesus was family

Jesus took it as a message from God: not the hysteric ministrations of an old maid gone sweetly mad but the careful act of a prophet. My behaviour may have seemed strange but it was no stranger than Ezekiel eating the scroll as a sign that he carried the word of God around inside him, or Jeremiah smashing the clay jar to show God’s judgment on Judah and Jerusalem, or Isaiah, walking around Jerusalem naked and barefoot as an oracle against the nations. Prophets do these things. They act out the truth that no one else can see, and those who stand around watching either write them off as crazy or fall silent before the disturbing news they bring from God.

It could have gone either way. I could have anointed his head and everyone could have proclaimed him a king. But I dropped to my knees and poured the salve on his feet, that could mean only one thing. The only man who got his feet anointed was a dead man.

Out in the yard, a freshly vacated tomb still smelled of burial spices, waiting for a new occupant. The air was dense with death. The storm was brewing in the distance, but I’d given them the forecast. It will be bad, very bad, but that’s no reason to lock up your hearts.

To sell the nard might have fed a poor family for a year. Mine was an act so lavish because there was nothing prudent or economical about the death of this man, just as there was nothing prudent or economical about his life. In him, the extravagance of God’s love was made flesh. In him, the excessive nature of God’s mercy was made manifest. This bottle will not be held back to be kept and admired, I thought. This precious substance will not be saved. It will be opened, offered, and used, at great price. It will be raised up and poured out for all humankind, emptied to the last drop. To be a generous spirit you need to know that there are times to celebrate. To make a feast when the cupboard is empty. To do something in the midst of ugliness. We will die if we let our symbols of love become defined by duty instead of our soaring vision

Whatever they need, there will be enough to go around, for there is nothing frugal about the love of God, or about the lives of those who serve him. Where God is concerned, there is no need to fear running out – of nard or of life. Where God is concerned, there is always more; more than we can either ask or imagine-gifts from our lavish, loving Lord.

But that comes from acting on my passion instead of my reason. Judas was the practical one, the voice of common sense: the accountant who balanced the books (John was convinced that he fiddled them too) He was basically a good man but he didn’t have much imagination, he couldn’t let himself go.

My sister Martha – another good person – she did all the practical work in the kitchen and resented me sitting down listening to Jesus, wasting time when there’s chores to be done.

Who are you like in this story? Are you a do-gooder? Always on the go like Martha – Helping people in need? That’s good, we need Marthas.

Are you an administrator, a pen-pusher like Judas – seeing that all the background work gets done to help the church, the school, the hospital. That’s good – teachers, doctors, clergy need you to back up their work.

But don’t you need a bit of me, Mary, too. Do-gooders get burnt out and start to resent the people they help. Pen-pushers get too cautious and strangle the creativity and initiative of the people they’re supposed to service. That defeats the whole object.

Those men frown on the body. They’re obsessed with sexuality and when to condemn it. But Jesus was the friend of sinners, not a moralizer. We’re called to be his body. So let’s have some bodiliness. From the neck down. Some passion on Passion Sunday.

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