Looking at our readings today--using “The Message/Remix” by Eugene Peterson. From Isaiah: “This is what God says, the God who builds a road right through the ocean… ‘Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. … There it is! I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands… Wild animals will say, ‘Thank you!’ … Because I provided water in the desert, rivers through the sun-baked earth, drinking water for the people I made especially for myself, a people custom-made to praise me.” And from the Psalm: “God, do it again--bring rains to our drought-stricken lives, so those who planted their crops in despair will shout hurrahs at the harvest, so those who went off with heavy hearts will come home laughing, with armloads of blessings.” And, then Paul: “I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ--God’s righteousness… I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me.”
It seems we’re being told that at this point in Lent we should be well on our way to being transformed so we can celebrate the Easter feast. And, that poignant story of Mary anointing Jesus’ feet with the nard ointment--think how wonderfully thankful she was for Christ in her life. Jesus raised her beloved brother from the dead! When he came to see them after Lazarus’ death, she had stayed indoors too deep in her grief to greet him--probably a little angry Jesus hadn’t been there to heal her brother when she needed him. Sure, he could drop in and visit and enjoy their hospitality but when the rubber met the road, he wasn’t there.
Mary was transformed by the love Jesus had shown toward her family. She wanted to show him the ultimate hospitality--anointing with expensive oil--his feet, not his head, his feet. She moved from just sitting at his feet to hear his words, to perhaps anger because he wasn’t there when she needed him--to complete devotion and admiration. She would give the most expensive thing she owned for his comfort. Jesus is the resurrection and the life: For Mary, for Paul and for us.
I was trying to think if I have ever felt abandoned by God and I really haven’t had a time like that. I’ve had rough times: sick children, sick parents, bad relationships, loss of friends, my own illness--but, I have never felt God was not there with me. When bad times come I increase my prayer time--I am compelled to because otherwise I couldn’t make it. To know that Jesus was a day’s journey away, that he could reach out and touch my sick loved one--sure I would send for him. And, I would be upset if he didn’t come. But, in the end, he did come and it was just the right time. Mary and Martha and Lazarus expected they would be healed from serious illness because they were special friends of Jesus. They were grateful for any healing they had received in Jesus’ name. Raising Lazarus from the dead when it seemed too late, that act would change their whole lives. So, of course, Mary anointed Jesus with nard.
It was an extravagant act. So, what form will our acts of extravagance take? We eat from silver dishes at our table here. The table is draped with fancy brocades and covered with fine linen. The candles contain expensive beeswax. Our albs are rather pricey especially for the frequency of their use. These expensive items are here to exhibit the abundance of God. Mary had experienced the abundance of the Lord and, like Paul, the things she had held dear were like so much rubbish. The nard was an investment for the future--it would not lose its value. Mary was willing to pour out her life’s savings for the comfort of Jesus because Lazarus’ life was worth far more than any nest egg. Mary was grateful for the grace she had received.
She had to know Jesus was in danger. He had chosen not to stay at their home for Passover this time--I assume to protect this dear family of siblings from harm. Mary must have felt a sense of urgency to do this one last thing for Jesus. A meal topped off with nard ointment for the feet. Jesus had always been welcome there. Now they understood better just what kind of power he had. Power over the grave.
Paul lived extravagantly--he thought nothing of placing himself in danger to build up the followers of Christ. Mary gave this extravagant gift to Jesus when he came to their house for the last time. Our god can make paths through the ocean and rivers in the desert. What form will our acts of extravagance take?