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Sr070325 - Parish of St Stephen - Lent 4

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Acting Beyond What We Know

I.      Have you ever been misunderstood?

A.   I do not know why she/he did it?

B.   That was a crazy thing to do!

C.   I just do not know what they were up to!

D.   That is what happened in our gospel story

II.   Setting

A.   Jesus had been a visitor at the house she shared with her sister Martha and her brother Lazarus

1.     Their parents were apparently dead

2.     None of them seem to be married

3.     I suspect that Martha was the oldest, due to her behavior

B.   She had appreciated Jesus’ teaching and how accepted her as a student, although she was a woman – Luke 10:38-41

C.   Then her brother had gotten sick and died

1.     Jesus had disappointed her in the slowness of his response

2.     She felt like Jesus had failed them when Lazarus died before Jesus arrived

3.     But then he had raised Lazarus from the dead and words could not describe her thankfulness

D.   Now he was on his way to Jerusalem, stopping by their home 2 miles (15 stadia) east of Jerusalem

1.     Martha was being practical as ever and taking responsibility for the serving

2.     Lazarus was a man, so of course he played the host and sat at table

3.     But where was Mary?

III.Mary had this crazy impulse

A.   She (or they) had this perfume in the house – it was pure spikenard

1.     a scented ointment or perfume imported from the Himalayas in alabaster boxes and opened on special occasions (Song of Sol. 1:12; 4:13, 14).

B.   It was valuable, perhaps a family heirloom, perhaps their savings, perhaps something from their parents – it was worth $20,000 to $30,000

C.   She grabbed the box and slipped into the room and broke it open over Jesus’ feet (he was laying at table)

1.     Perhaps she had not thought to bring a towel, but in any case she let her impulsive love go to the point of impropriety

2.     Perhaps she massaged it into his feet with her hands, but then she let down her hair, which a proper woman did not do except in her bedroom, and wiped off the excess.

a)    Did she not want to waste the excess?

b)    Did she see this as a further act of love?

IV.           The immediate response was not positive

A.   Judas voiced what the others were thinking

B.   This was a waste – what good would it do Jesus in the long run?

C.   This could have done a lot of good for others.

D.   Extravagant! Wasteful! And thus evil.

E.   Mary felt the wave of criticism, even anger

1.     It would not even help later when she learned that Judas was far from being a man of great love for the poor

F.    Perhaps Mary had her own self-doubts; was her impulse just a stupid emotional thing, or was it pure love for God and his messenger?

V.  The Jesus speaks

A.   Leave her alone. She bought it 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.

B.   Here he was defending her again

C.   But what was he saying?

1.     Burying the dead was a good work indeed, and he was clearly reinterpreting this self-abandoning act as a pious good work.

2.     But he was not dead. What could that mean? She did not understand.

D.   Yet she did understand that he was saying that he would not always be here, and that surely distressed her – but perhaps that would not be for a long time

VI.           Mary had acted on impulse, and she had acted better than she knew

A.   The onlookers did not understand the act

B.   Mary herself probably did not understand it

C.   But it was divine impulse

D.   She had impulsively grasped at the mystery that Jesus would soon die

E.   Her act had meaning that only we the readers could know

VII.        What does this mean for us?

A.   God still moves in the hearts of the people who love him

1.     Notice that Mary had listened to his words

2.     She had been a follower

3.     Her heart was prepared

B.   We do not always understand God’s impulses

1.     The issue is whether we will act on them

2.     But sure that they will cost you, often cost you a lot

C.   Others surely do not understand them

1.     They will criticize you

2.     They will reject you

D.   But Jesus and his Father will understand

E.   And perhaps in the end we will understand

VIII.     Are you willing to join the divine crazies?

A.   The Mary’s, the Paul’s, the St. Francis’ and the many others?

B.   Then listen to the impulses of love that God puts in your heart

C.   And act

IX.           May you be one whom Jesus defends against criticism, for what you did you did to him


Psalm 126

Isaiah 43:16-21 (NRSV)

16     Thus says the Lord,

who makes a way in the sea,

a path in the mighty waters,

17     who brings out chariot and horse,

army and warrior;

they lie down, they cannot rise,

they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:

18     Do not remember the former things,

or consider the things of old.

19     I am about to do a new thing;

now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

I will make a way in the wilderness

and rivers in the desert.

20     The wild animals will honor me,

the jackals and the ostriches;

for I give water in the wilderness,

rivers in the desert,

to give drink to my chosen people,

21     the people whom I formed for myself

so that they might declare my praise.


Philippians 3:4-14 (NRSV)

4 even though I, too, have reason for confidence in the flesh.

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

7 Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8 More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ,e the righteousness from God based on faith. 10 I want to know Christf and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Pressing toward the Goal

12 Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal;g but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Beloved,h I do not consider that I have made it my own;i but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenlyj call of God in Christ Jesus.


John 12:1-8 (NRSV)

 (Mt 26.6—13; Mk 14.3—9)

12 Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3 Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped thema with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5 “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denariib and the money given to the poor?” 6 (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.) 7 Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”


[1]  The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

e  Or through the faith of Christ

f  Gk him

g  Or have already been made perfect

h  Gk Brothers

i  Other ancient authorities read my own yet

j  Gk upward

[2]  The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

a  Gk his feet

b  Three hundred denarii would be nearly a year’s wages for a laborer

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