First Congregational Church
April 7, 2019
5th Sunday in Lent
“Scandalous Mistaken Intentions of Glory”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
One day a frog hopped into a bank to try to get a loan. He asked to see a loan officer and was told to see Patty Black. She gave him the appropriate papers, and when the frog was finished filling them out she looked them over.
"Mr. Frog, everything seems to be in order, except that you have not listed any collateral. Do you own a house?" "No," he croaked. "What about a car?" she asked. "No," he replied again. "Well, I'm sorry, Mr. Frog, but you must have something of value to put up as collateral in order for me to give you this loan."
The frog thanked her and promised that he would return with something to use as collateral. The next day the frog hopped back to the bank, carrying an odd-looking figurine of some sort and showed it to the loan officer. "I would like to use this as collateral for my loan," he croaked.
She looked it over and replied, "I'm not convinced that this is valuable enough for a loan of this amount." "But this is an antique!" the frog protested. "It has been in my family for generations!"
The loan officer, sensing the frog's sincerity but knowing very little about antiques, took the item to her the head of the loan department. "Sir," she said, "there is a frog out here who wants a loan and the only thing he has to offer for collateral is this . . . THING, and I don't even know what it is. He claims that it's a valuable antique. What do you think?" The man looked it over carefully, then replied, "Why, it's a knickknack, Patty Black, give the frog a loan!"
The place in the Bible called Bethany probably doesn’t mean so much to us modern-day Christians, other than it is often part of a name like Bethany Lutheran Church and Bethany Christian Services. The non-Hebrew word means something like House of Misery or Poor House. According to the New Testament, it was home to a number of rather well-known folks, like Simon the Leper, Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus. Because Bethany was just two miles from Jerusalem, there were probably a fair number of tombs and graves between the two towns, as Jewish people didn’t bury their dead within city limits, so you could say that death was in the air.
John 12:1-11 Jesus Anointed at Bethany
1 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 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.” 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, but you will not always have me.”
9 Meanwhile, a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, 11 for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him.
Thank you, Jim. The other day, I was thinking about this passage, and wondered, what if verse 7 was omitted? What if we were left with “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages?” Reading any amount of scripture, sitting in any number of church services, we can readily pick up the point that Judas was a man with plenty of issues. Why did the writer of John feel the need to add the indictment of character?
In this season of reflection, hopefully not only myself, but all of us, are a little more aware of that which we don’t need to say - as much as being aware of the things that we need to say. If for no other reason, the writer of John reminds us that while truth is valuable, prudence is priceless.
In Tennessee Williams’ play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, one of the characters keeps saying over and over to the character of Big Daddy that you can just smell “the mendacity in the air.” This was a play with many layers of deception and lying and it became so very palpable to some of the characters that it was as though the air was filled with mendacity, with lies. You could smell the untruthfulness that was afoot.
In John 12, a little mendacity melds with the ironic smell of death. It’s ironic because being raised on the fourth day, one would certainly have thought Lazarus would be a little pungent, as they say. It didn’t even matter how long it was since Jesus had raised his friend, the miracle lingered, clinching the case against him as far as the religious authorities were concerned. If they let Jesus keep doing this kind of thing, there’d be no stopping him and the scandal would be outrageous.
Not only was mendacity and death swirling in the air that day, but so were politics. It was taboo for a man to be touched by a woman, and if he did, ceremonial cleansing would need to take place before moving on with his day. And the feet were as suggestive as other private parts of human anatomy.
On top of that, a woman’s loose hair was perceived as being sensual by men in Galilean culture, as it is still true in some segments of present-day society. She “wasted” costly perfume, anointing the one called The Messiah, a Hebrew word meaning “anointed.”
Naval engineer, Richard A. Jones, was trying to make a meter devise to monitor power on naval battleships. While working with tension springs, one of them fell to the ground, bouncing from place to place, giving birth to the Slinky.
Sir Alexander Fleming was a scientist who was trying to make a “wonder drug” that could cure diseases. When his experiments weren’t working, he threw them all away, eventually noticing a contaminated Petri dish that contained a mold that was dissolving all the bacteria around it. We now know that bacteria as penicillin.
Electrical engineer, John Hopps, was trying to use radio frequency heating to restore body temperature. Somehow, during his experiment he realized if a heart stopped beating due to cooling, it could be started again by artificial stimulation. This realization led to the pacemaker.
In all the chaos of the coming Passover, the rather recent raising of Lazarus, the excitement of having good friends come together for a meal, the static within the conversation that included Judas, Jesus was setting about to create not just a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, but over time, he would reveal the scandalous mistakes of some intentions and turn them into glory - for God, for us, for all time. Before returning to his eternal home, Jesus turn the jeers and tears into hope and victory. But that’s not really new news.
This passage is also a story to encourage us not to save the good dishes only for special events, to hoard the blessings that have been bestowed on us, and to listen to that still small voice in each of us, to bless each other when the Spirit moves us, because who knows what we will all be facing tomorrow or six days down the road.
The man whispered, ”God, speak to me”. And a meadowlark sang. But the man did not hear. So the man yelled, ”God speak to me!” And the thunder rolled across the sky, But the man did not listen. The man looked around and said, ”God let me see you”. And a star shone brightly, But the man did not notice. And the man shouted, ”God show me a miracle”, And a life was born. But the man did not know. So, the man cried out in despair, ”Touch me God and let me know that you are here!” Whereupon God reached down and touched the man. But the man brushed the butterfly away and walked on.
Who knows if Judas could have seen the blessing that the burial nard represented, regardless of his history, had he looked a little deeper into what Mary did for Jesus. And to be fair to Judas, who of us would have been oblivious to Mary as a woman of sorrows, acquainted with grief?
I’m not suggesting that anyone go into hock in extravagant blessing. Although, if anyone is thinking about asking me to join them in the option of renting a yacht with full crew for seven days to make seven Caribbean ports of call, I might be available. Apparently, a family of four for this jaunt could have the whole thing for a cool $1.06 million. But just know that the onboard masseuse is extra.
We can’t escape death, and we can’t escape the poor. But we can all come closer to the glory of God - in our blessings and even our scandalous mistaken intentions when we take the moments to notice all that with which God blesses us. So let us pray.
Gracious God of Blessing, thank you for your son, and certainly for his sacrifice of love. Thank you, too, for all the stories and accounts - in the Bible - and out - that show us how to live into your glory. Forgive us when we say or fail to say the things that can bring blessing to those who so need it. Help us to be prudent in our conversations and understanding of our actions, that we represent you to the best of our abilities. For all the blessings and love and joy and grace, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.