There is a book entitled, “Break a Vase” by Richard Meyer. In it, he tells the story of Bob and Elizabeth Dole. Apparently, while on the campaign trail, Bob Dole received a letter in response to an article that appeared in a magazine in which Bob and Elizabeth Dole were making their bed together.
The writer of the letter to Mr. Dole expressed his disappointment that Dole would allow himself to be photographed in such a "compromising" position, making the bed with his wife. Senator Dole wrote the man back, saying, "You don't know the half of it; the only reason Elizabeth was helping at all was because the photographer was in the room."
In the previous chapter of John’s Gospel, Lazarus had died, Laz’s sister, Mary, had lashed out at Jesus for “letting” him die, and Jesus ultimately raised Laz to life again. Against the background of all that happening, the chief priests and Pharisees were meeting to figure out what to do about this Jesus guy, because if people started following him, turning their allegiance from Emperor Tiberius to Jesus, then the Romans could come and take away the Jewish temple and ultimately, their nation. While conspiracy was slinking around in the background, Jesus, Lazarus, Mary, Martha, and others were celebrating life.
Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 3 Then Mary took about a pint[a] of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
4 But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 5 “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.[b]” 6 He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.
7 “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. 8 You will always have the poor among you,[c] but you will not always have me.”
Thank you, Laurel and Mason. One of the joys of my time away was doing what many adults of all ages have done throughout time, watching middle school and high school weekend basketball tournaments. So one early Saturday a.m., watching 14-year-old boys do what 14-year-old boys do on a court, I happened to tune in to a conversation between a mother and her little daughter next to me. I wrote it down, word for word because it was so good.
Out of the blue, the little girl says, “Mom, yesterday I had an itchy thing on my shoulder.” The mom asked, “Is it gone now?” The little girl said, “Yes.” And that was it. It cracked me up as it was so random, so disconnected to the moment, yet so very important. And the deeper joy was that the mother looked away from the game to interact with the little girl, validating her and accepting the little “gift” from the girl’s everyday life.
There are so many instructional bullet points in today’s passage, but a couple we maybe don’t always think about are 1. the setting and 2., Jesus’ acceptance of the gift.
This glimpse into a single episode of Jesus’ life took place in an easy two-mile walk from where Jesus grew up in Jerusalem, Bethany being the hometown of Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha. For reference, that’s from here to the causeway on the way to Elberta. Even without bicycles in his day, I’d be willing to bet that Jesus knew Bethany pretty well, being a kid without television or gadgets and needing something to occupy time.
Being one of the siblings’ best friends, Jesus probably didn’t just recline at the table with the others like what one might have done at weddings and accompanying degrees of politeness. Maybe the siblings’ abode was more of a second home to Jesus.
During my time in Minnesota, I stayed mainly with my dad at this southern suburb of St. Paul home. But between every weekend and every other weekend, I would spend a few days with my sister, who lives an hour away from dad, in a northwest suburb of Minneapolis. The two houses are very different from each other, and yet at each house I slept in a room that they called “my” room. And to make for easier references, I even referred to those rooms as mine.
The houses are obviously not mine, but I had a little space in them where I could escape if necessary, lay my head down in peace and navigate even beyond their homes because of the rest I was able to enjoy. The last week of my time away I spent at an Air B and B in Boyne City, where I, again, had a space that allowed me to put my feet up and unwind at the end of the day - if not for entire days.
I have to admit that I cut my time short at the B and B by a day, because I was really missing my own bed. Yes, I was curious about how the parsonage looked after it’s amazing transformation. But more than anything, I was wanting that place I call home. I think that happens to a lot of us, at the end of trips, when we’re eager to get back to the familiar and comfortable.
I don’t know if everyone has caught on yet, but for a long time, I’ve referred to this gathering of people as a church family, in part, because that’s what we are. But also, because in our coming together as often as we do, it becomes a second home for all of us, that allows us rest, even if sometimes it’s not in our favorite pew, even when someone different sits next to us, because this is “our” space, even if there are people here with whom we might have differing opinions on topics from potato chips to politics and beyond. Whether watching from a special place at home, or here in person, this space is really important and special and vital to the living out of the rest of our lives.
I’ve been thinking about this day for weeks, anticipating the joy of being home with all of you, and doing the sacred thing that we do as followers of Christ in communing with one another. Envisioning this day came easily as I visited different churches that had some sort of significance in my BF days - Before Frankfort.
Regardless of the number of people I knew - or not - in any given church, it was so interesting how I was welcomed - or not. I walked into one church where I knew only two people of the couple dozen attending that very cold day, and they were the only two people who interacted with me. No one invited me to coffee, there was nothing in the bulletin to invite me in. How we operate with this space we call home is important, too, because there may be people wanting - needing - to be part of a family, just like we are.
There is some dispute among Bible “experts” as to who this particular Mary was who anointed Jesus’ feet, and her identity isn’t maybe so crucial as Jesus’ response to Judas. It’s easy to understand the money aspect of Mary’s gift, but there is also Jesus’ acceptance of her gift and the subsequent acceptance of Mary into this setting.
Dining in Jesus’ day was a little different in that they literally reclined - lounged on one arm, on cushions the ground - around a table. If you are eating like that, your feet are likely the furthest part of your body from the table. So Mary’s anointing was at the fringe of the gathering, maybe in a non-verbal way of asking to be allowed “into” the family eating together. Telling Judas to leave Mary alone certainly carried a great deal of significance on the surface, but just below the surface, it was an even larger and more crucial response.
It’s easy to appreciate the idea of home, especially in a time when having such a place is hard to find for a lot of people - regardless of income. A lot of times, we come close to the topic of home with Mothers and Fathers Days, but then, they can be a little loaded with emotion. Today’s passage is not without emotion, either. But we have this time to think about our own spaces and our places in those spaces - and here - and to pray for and give God praise for our places of restoration and refreshment.
And we have this meal this day, the one that Jesus gave us, one for which most of us just have to receive. Whether we are the usual meal maker or someone else in the household is, there is that point when everything is ready and it’s time to ‘come and get it.’ It’s time to prepare our hearts as we come to get the meal that reminds us of sacrificial, eternal love and grace and mercy.
Let us pray. Holy God of home and hearth, heart and honor, thank you for claiming us and preparing for us and being with us as a valued person in our lives, regardless of where we call home. We pray for those who have lost their homes this week, their places of safety and rest. Send your Holy Spirit with special gifts of good sleep and peace and comfort, regardless of specific situations, that we may all meet our tomorrows better equipped to help others in our lives. Thank you for your Son, who showed us over and over, what love looks like and what it means, including us in that love - that love in which we are always “home.” For these and the food of the earth we bless to your name, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.