God has done a new thing in Christ, is doing it: let us pray that the Spirit open our eyes and hearts to see and respond like Mary and Paul.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Fifth Sunday in Lent, year C
Texts: John 12:1-8; Philippians 3:4b-14; Isaiah 43:16-21
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Judas actually has a point. Most people would agree with him.
Mary’s taken a $21,000 bottle of perfume and poured it all over the floor. Ten months’ wages for a day laborer. In her economy, there couldn’t have been many rich enough to waste so extravagantly. How much food, shelter, help for those in need could Mary have provided with this?
We know others were bothered. Matthew and Mark don’t single out Judas; they say the disciples were angry. Of course they were. How many in this room would agree with them, if we’re honest? Most of us.
So what on earth possessed Mary to do this? Surely making ends meet was as challenging for them in their little village as anyone. Lazarus, the only money-maker for the family, had been sick, eventually died. How much could they have?
Mary’s view of what is valuable is upside down from everyone else. What does she see that we don’t?
Paul’s upside-downness is harder to see, but no less remarkable.
This little section on how well he kept Jewish law isn’t intended as bragging, even if it comes off that way. Paul’s simply stating fact: he was really faithful in his Jewish life.
But now he says, that whole way of life is like trash to me. Whatever I thought I was gaining from it, whatever I thought was valuable, none of that has any worth, now that I know Christ Jesus as my Lord.
We might miss how upsetting this is. But the Jewish Christians in Philippi might have taken a gulp or two hearing this. It’s possible some of the baptized Christians who were Jewish kept some of their Jewish practices. The Christians in Jerusalem did. This brought them comfort and strength, as religious rituals can do.
Now Paul says that’s worth nothing compared to knowing Christ. Living in Christ, joining Christ in the resurrection, is the only value. What it would take for you to say everything about your life of faith that you’ve valued, means nothing now that you know Christ?
So what possessed Paul to believe this? What does he see that we don’t?
What happened to Mary and Paul is clear. They met Christ and their world changed.
Maybe Mary came to this recently. Her brother died and Jesus had just raised him to life. That could completely change her sense of what was valuable to her.
But Mary was a listener. She heard Jesus and he changed her life. When Jesus was in the house, she wanted to sit at his feet and listen. And she did listen: she seems to be the only one in Holy Week that remembers Jesus said he was going to die. She’s the only one preparing for Friday’s horror. Mary’s world is oriented to this Teacher who gave her purpose, whose words filled her soul. Nothing else matters.
But what happened to Paul? Zealous to persecute the young Church, on the road to Damascus he’s knocked down and speaks to Christ. But in neither Galatians nor Acts are we told that Christ specifically told Paul anything about his Jewish practices.
Yet somehow he realized his only need for life with God was found in this Christ who was speaking to him. Meeting Christ, learning in time that he was loved by God in Christ, Paul said, “That’s it. Nothing else matters.”
We’re seeing a complete alteration of perception of reality.
And that’s exactly what God asks you today in Isaiah: “Don’t remember the former things, what you’ve been. I’m about to do a new thing: can you perceive it?”
We who’ve been Christian since before we formed memories can struggle to imagine what it’s like to hear God’s new thing as a new thing. If you’ve been involved in congregational life your whole existence, how do you see this as new? Like Paul, you’ve acquired habits and practices that draw you closer to God. Like Mary, you know economy, and what things are worth.
But how in the world do lifelong Christians see God’s new thing in Christ as a new thing? Because it seems clear that when you do, you evaluate everything differently. You live differently.
This draws our Lenten Gospels together, along with Jesus’ call.
We heard of God’s embracing wings, of God’s gardening people to bear fruit, of God’s welcome of the lost. We heard some reject others from God’s love, some wish others to be punished by God, some resent that others got God’s love, others who really aren’t good enough.
Can you put yourself into these stories and make them not interesting curiosities about past times but real moments of truth?
Jesus calls you to take up your cross and follow. But he can’t make you live a cross-shaped life of sacrificial love. Jesus can’t make you see all creatures as loved by God infinitely, including yourself, or get you to open your arms to all in God’s love.
What it will take to live Christ’s cross-shaped life, to live this new thing, is to have your perception of what is real completely altered. To have an utterly different set of values, like Mary and Paul, and to live accordingly.
So go back through your life and ask: are there Mary places for you, Paul moments you’ve forgotten?
Are there times you’ve felt embraced under God’s wings of love and mercy? Times you’ve felt God’s Spirit garden you like a struggling tree, and you began to flourish? Times you’ve felt God welcome you home with forgiveness and love and a feast of life?
What of when you are here? You are fed at Christ’s table with forgiveness, life, and salvation. Does that change how you see the world? You meet Christ in these people – they are Christ’s love and welcome to you. Is that enough to open your eyes to God’s new thing? So you are changed and begin to live like Mary and Paul, pouring out this new thing?
The important thing is that you and I really seek this altered perception.
That you and I pray the Holy Spirit will take the scales off our eyes, like Paul, open our hearts to the astonishing love of God, like Mary, and help us reevaluate everything.
It’s how you can be free from the idolatry of your wealth. How you can join Christ in seeing the world with eyes of compassion and grace. How you can step out in the world with courage, bearing God’s sacrificial love in your love to all you meet.
We don’t want to live life as usual, with unchallenged assumptions and perceptions. To agree with the disciples, or the world. To live unchanged by our relationship with God in Christ.
We want to see Mary’s extravagance as the only response we can imagine making to the love of God we have seen in the face of Jesus. To share Paul’s confidence that he is happy having nothing as long as he knows he is in Christ’s love.
God is doing a new thing in Christ. Can you see it? When you do, your world will be utterly changed.
In the name of Jesus. Amen