God Moves Us…to Empty Ourselves

12 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[a] 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[b] 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[c] 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.”

The opportunity to look at old pictures always causes us to go back in time and relive the memories of certain events or even to remember certain people if they are no longer with us. The funny thing is that scientists have determined that certain smells can even be more powerful in recalling events than even pictures. If we smell bread baking it can remind us of certain people who were great bakers and we recall not only them, but also maybe the house, more specifically the kitchen even. Remember the other people that we broke bread with, the conversations, and the joys and laughter that were shared.

If you smelled cabbage pockets baking, I would imagine many would have a school cafeteria image. If you smelled pine needles many would remember a favorite mountain place you went camping. However certain smells can bring back different types of memories as well. The sugar factory reminds me of football, because when I was playing and then the many years coaching that smell reminded me of getting on a bus and driving across town to the stadium for home football games. For most people that smell is not very pleasant. The aroma of one thing can have very different meanings for many people. Just like that evening when Mary opened the perfume and anointed Jesus feet.

It is a week before the triumphal entry into Jerusalem according to the gospel writer John and Jesus has gone to see his good friends Mary, Martha and Lazarus with all the disciples with him. It is going to be a party, and Martha is busy cooking away in the kitchen. The house must have been filled with the smell of the food when Jesus and the disciples entered their home. You may have remembered that Jesus and the disciples had been to this home before but under not so joyous an occasion.

Remember, the last time they were here Lazarus had died. Jesus was too late getting to their home. Mary and Martha were upset with Jesus because they knew that he could have saved him. Jesus himself was overcome with grief and wept for Lazarus. The smell of burial spices would have still hung in the air of the house at that time. Then Jesus does the unthinkable when he asks the women where the body of Lazarus is and he asks some men to remove the stone from that was sealing the tomb. Lazarus had been dead for several days and the smell of moving that stone would have been awful. Nevertheless, the stone was rolled away and Jesus commanded Lazarus to come forth from the tomb, and he came out still smelling of death wearing his burial clothes. The death smell, which was common in the day, would never have the same finality that it did at one time for those who witnessed the resurrection of Lazarus.

On this night Jesus is seated in the same home that had death hanging over it just a few weeks ago and now Mary opens a jar of expensive perfume and begins to wash Jesus feet with it and wipes them dry with her hair. The smell of perfume must have filled the house with a new scent. There is a whole lot of symbolism that is going on in this event that we might not catch. Anointing was a big deal in this time period.

If someone was sick you anointed them for healing believing the combination of ingredients in a certain balm could heal a person. We have Essential Oils, Aspercreme, Ben Gay and many others that we use today. There were certain spices that were used for anointing the body when someone died. There were also certain oils that were used when someone was anointed as a king. Remember the anointing of king David when Samuel called all the brothers together and God chose David and then Samuel anointed his head with oil. The Psalmist reflect on the oil running down over the head and in the beard of kings that were chosen by God. Jesus was not just getting his feet washed by Mary she was anointing Jesus.

Yet what was the purpose of this anointing? For Mary it was more than a matter of washing his feet. It was an act of coronation. She believed that Jesus was truly the king, and in pouring the perfume on his feet she was declaring him king. Yet there was one there who was not having it. Judas became angry because he thought it was a waste of money and the perfume could have been sold and the money used to help take care of the poor. Notice here the commentary by the gospel writer, “(the one who was about to betray him),” and again, “(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.)” Judas was having none of the anointing that was fit for a king and the memory of this event for the gospel writer is one that places Judas as the enemy.

Jesus sees the anointing as something even greater because he is focused on going to Jerusalem. Jesus is trying to follow the will of God and knows that is going to lead to trouble, death and then the glory of the resurrection. Jesus responds to Judas by saying, “Leave her alone. She bought it[c] 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.” Jesus is impressed with this act by Mary to pour out this lavish amount for him. Judas says it could be sold for $300 denarii and one denarius was a day’s wages. That’s a year’s worth of wages that expensive perfume would fetch. That’s a huge sum of money.

Yet what is the cost of receiving God’s grace and Jesus sacrificial love? Does it cost a year’s worth of wages? Does it cost us the betrayal of friends? Does it cost us the very life of the Savior of the world? Does it cost us a jar of expensive perfume?

Mary was willing to empty her jar to bring forth the smell of love she had for Jesus and to anoint him the king. What does the scent of the kingdom of God smell like? Does it smell like all the goodness wrapped into one big scent? Or does it give off an odor of helping people in need? If we are willing to empty ourselves for Jesus as Mary was, then we need to know that there is a price that comes with it. We can’t earn our way into the kingdom, but out of our gratitude for the gift of grace our response is sharing the good news. Because we do not have Jesus with us physically we are to act in accordance with his actions to help those in need and share the love that God has already given to us.

God moved Jesus to empty himself for us on the cross. That redemptive act is the price that was paid for our salvation today. We can do no other than share that good news. What does that good news smell like to you? I hope that it is a very sweet and savory aroma. Amen.

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