Leave her alone: My address to the Tishomingo UMC Holy Week Lunch
Each year the Tishomingo United Methodist Church hosts Holy Week Luncheons, and it was my privilege to address them this year.
Our text for today is John 12:1-11, if you have a bible I invite you to turn there, or swipe there on your phone, whatever the case may be.
Listen as I read our passage.
John 12:1-11 1 Jesus, therefore, six days before the Passover, came to Bethany where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 So they made Him a supper there, and Martha was serving; but Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with Him. 3 Mary then took a pound of very costly perfume of pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of His disciples, who was intending to betray Him, said, 5 "Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to poor people?" 6 Now he said this, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it. 7 Therefore Jesus said, "Let her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of My burial. 8 "For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me." 9 The large crowd of the Jews then learned that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus' sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He raised from the dead. 10 But the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death also; 11 because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and were believing in Jesus.
In the grand scheme of the Holy Week, it's easy to overlook this passage. It doesn't have the enduring presence of the Last Supper, which we still celebrate today. It doesn't have the dramatic flair of Jesus standing before Pilate, or the finality of the veil of the temple being torn in half.
All of the Gospel record this story. Two of them, Matthew and Mark, record Jesus as saying that wherever the Gospel is preached that Mary will be remembered. Luke records Jesus parable of the two debtors, that the one who has been forgiven the most will love the most. Luke also records Jesus forgiving the sins of Mary. Even though it might not have the eternal significance of the other stories in the holy week, we would do well to remember what John is trying to teach us through his passage.
I don't know if you have ever been to a dinner party. Sure you have had people over before, maybe even entertained an important guest or two. But Mary and Martha, sisters of Lazarus, had Jesus sitting at their table. JESUS! Son of God, raiser of Lazarus from the dead, and someone who loved them and who they loved very much.
You might have been trained to have dinner parties when you were in school. The salad fork on the left, the bread knife on the right. I'm sure there is protocol for how to serve guests firsts, how to treat high ranking officials and the such. Everything I know about dinner parties I learned from when Andy Griffith taught Ernest T Bass how to be a gentleman.
Imagine this scene, Jesus sitting at a table, reclined as the nature then, surrounded by the disciples and others. There was conversation going on, and you could smell the food coming from the kitchen. Martha is serving, Lazarus is reclining at the table, and then Mary walks in.
Have you ever felt all eyes turn to you as you walk into a room? It's like everything stopped and turned to you as you came in the room. For Mary, it was partly shame. People knew who she was, what she did. Luke says that everyone knew she was a sinner. Have you ever felt shame when you walked into a room? That's what Mary felt as she walked across the room and knelt at the feet of Jesus.
She is carrying something, they can't tell what it is. As she walks over towards Jesus and sits at his feet, she pulls out what she brought in. An alabaster flask, Luke says, and begins to pour this out over his feet. The theme for this week is the Sounds of the Cross, but I imagine at this moment what was greatest was the smell.
In high school I had a youth pastor who was obsessed with English Leather for some reason. When we went to camp he made all the guys put on some English Leather before going out to talk to the girls. One time someone found a big glass boot of English Leather at a garage sale and bought it for him. He left it in his trunk, and as he took a sharp turn the boot broke. A gallon or so of English Leather spilled in the trunk. You know how a wiff of a strong perfume can overwhelm you? Imagine that smell! He finally figured out how to get rid of the smell: just sell the car.
I don't know what this was, but it was not English Leather.
But if a little wiff of perfume fills space, imagine how much this whole alabaster flask filled the room with it's smell as she poured it on his feet. As it filled the room, they began to realize what was done. I don't imagine there were many sounds except for the weeping of Mary as her tears fell on the feet of Jesus.
You know the story as we just read it. Judas speaks up, wondering why this wasn't sold. It was worth three hundred denarii, almost a years wage for an average worker. He intended to steal it for himself, John tells us. But Jesus stands up for her.
I imagine the room was silent at Judas spoke up, and that the voice of Jesus filled the room as he rebuked Judas. "The poor you will have with you always", he says, "but I will not be." The ointment was a signal of preparing Jesus' body for the burial he would endure in just a few days.
For those who came to this meal, as far as they knew it was just an ordinary meal. They didn't know that we would be talking about some 2000 years later half away across the world. Why are we talking about it? What does it mean for us today?
First of all, it means that Christ forgives. The sounds of the cross, the sounds of holy week, were Mary crying as she wiped the feet of Jesus, the sound of Judas looking out for himself, and the sound of Jesus' words.
Look at that phrase, at what Jesus says. When Judas rebukes Mary, what does Jesus say in return to him?
"Leave her alone."
He doesn't deny the truth of what Judas said. What she had could have been sold. He doesn't call out Judas' hypocrisy, of wanting the money for himself. If John who wrote this knew about it, then Jesus undoubtedly knew. But he doesn't call him out for that.
Leave her alone, he says. When the rebukes come to us from the evil one, when the accusations come to us, what does Jesus say on our behalf?
Leave them alone. The accusations that come your way might be true! You are sinner, you are unworthy of Christ, you are guilty before Him. You have messed up, you have fallen short, you have wandered astray. You are the one who left the 99, you are the prodigal son, you are the woman at the well ashamed of her sin. And what does Christ say?
Leave them alone.
This is just words here, but as the week goes on we know that Christ makes that statement with more than words. He makes that statement, leave them alone, the statement of forgiveness, by giving his very life. The veil that is torn in half says leave them alone, the "it is finished," the "father forgive them," they all say, in essence, "leave them alone."
Leave them alone because I have payed the price, leave them alone because I have given my life for them, leave them alone because there is one mediator between God and man, Christ Jesus.
In this story from John, the sound of the cross is forgiveness. I hope that you hear those words of Christ today, that you smell the fragrance of a sacrifice given for Christ through Mary.
May God remind all of us that we need that forgiveness offered through the cross.