Gospel Meditations and Prayers for Lent - Fifth Sunday
Sep 20, 2019
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 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 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 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.”
In this small town about 2 ½ km east of Jerusalem, Jesus had stopped over to spend a few nights with a family whose lives he had forever changed. It would have been very strange indeed if these friends had offered him less than the warmest Middle Eastern hospitality, and so a dinner was given in Jesus’ honour.
As was culturally expected, Martha served the food and Lazarus reclined with the guests at the table. No doubt everyone expected a lovely, normal little dinner party. Until Mary came in.
She made her way to Jesus, and opened a jar of pure nard; a perfume made from an aromatic plant growing in the foothills of the Himalayas. Horrendously expensive, it had travelled thousands of kilometers across the trade routes of the east. Mary poured this perfume over Jesus feet and then wiped them with her hair. For an unmarried woman, it was an especially scandalous, counter-cultural, courageous, costly display of devotion. And the house was filled with the fragrance.
It would have been awkward to be present when this was going on, wouldn’t it? Were the guests flustered? Shocked? Embarrassed? Judas felt free to point out that there were more practical uses for something so costly. Surely there was something more productive, more cost-effective, more worthy to be done with something so expensive. Jesus replied, “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.”
Well now, there it was; the elephant in the room exposed. Jesus was walking freely towards his own death, and Mary was anointing him for burial with the most costly gift she owned. As I read and then re-read this passage I couldn’t get away from the image of that house filling with the fragrance of that perfume. I couldn’t help thinking that what Mary was doing that day was a lot like worship.
Next Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week. We’ll then recall Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, his betrayal, trial, torture, death, and resurrection. But for now, take time to find yourself at the table in the home of Mary, Martha & Lazarus. See the candles lit, the Table set, the smell of fresh bread and newly poured wine. Attend to the honoured Guest in our midst. Sit in wonder of such a One as this calling us friends.
Let down your defenses and offer him scandalous, counter-cultural, courageous, costly worship. And may that worship be a fragrant offering that fills our homes and churches, and carries us out into a world so in need of a hint of its perfume.
Lord, Jesus, we honour you as the Saviour and Redeemer of the world. Help us offer ourselves fully to you as living sacrifices. Make us, with all your Church worldwide, a holy and pleasing fragrance; that the whole world may come to know you. Amen.
By The Rev. Canon Dr. Judy Paulsen
Judy Paulsen serves as Wycliffe’s Professor of Evangelism and Director of the Institute of Evangelism. Judy has served as a parish priest in four parishes in the Diocese of Toronto, and as a speaker at conferences, retreats, and workshops. This coming year she will be overseeing the development of a resource for churches to help them ground people in foundations of the Christian faith, including: basic knowledge of the Bible, church history, Christian disciplines, evangelism, outreach and Christian leadership. Judy’s primary interest lies in the effective communication of the gospel in today’s culture.