The Lengths of Hatred and Love
Lent IV (Mary Annointing Jesus)
Palm Sunday and Holy Week are now just two weeks away. Several of the Gospels, and especially St. John's, give a good picture of how intense things were getting for Jesus in the weeks just prior to His betrayal, trial and crucifixion. Many who at one time followed Him began to grumble against Him, left His company, and began spying on Jesus and reporting His activities to the Pharisees. A number of unofficial attempts were made to stone Him or have Him arrested, but none was well enough organized to be successful. Against the advice of His close disciples who heard of threats aimed at Jesus, He entered dangerous territory by going to the town of Bethany, only two miles distant from the Pharisees' Headquarters in Jerusalem. He arrived there four days after Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, had died from an illness and was placed in a tomb. And there Jesus spoke Lazarus back to life, foreshadowing His own Resurrection.
Today's thoughts are about HATRED and LOVE and the lengths to which each will go. Unbelief fosters spiteful acts of hatred, while God's gift of faith may motivate the most extravagant expressions of true love! This is about hatred of Jesus and love for Jesus!!
HATRED FOR JESUS
Already in the habit of treating the teachings of Jesus and reports about Him with contempt, now the Chief Priests and Pharisees called together a Council over Him, having received the report about Lazarus being raised. The High Priest, Caiaphas, advised them concerning Jesus that it would be better for Jesus to die than to have the Romans destroy their whole country on account of Him. From that very time began the well organized plotting on the part of the religious leaders to see to it that Jesus would be put to death. (After He raised Lazarus, though, Jesus did withdraw for a time to a town called Ephraim in the wilderness area.)
Expressions of hatred coming from the Priests and Pharisees don't surprise us, but they're not as expected on the part of the Lord's own disciples. The hatred was deepest in the heart of Judas who spurred the others on, but listen to this harmonizing of several parallel Gospel passages that begins to set the scene: Jesus again came to Bethany where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. And while He was there in the house of Simon the Leper, they made Him a supper; Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those at table with Him. As He sat at table, Mary came with an alabaster jar of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the jar and poured it over His Head and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment. When the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying "Why this waste?", and they reproached her. But Judas Iscariot, one of His disciples, said, "Why was this ointment not sold for 300 denarii and given to the poor?" This he said not that he cared for the poor, but, because he was a thief and as he had the money-box, he used to take what was put into it.
What may have at first appeared to be sincere statements of concern from the disciples as a group actually ended up to be words of contempt. It's easier to express concern for the poor when someone else's money is involved, and it's often true that those who are most critical of the services of others do the least themselves. Simply put, those guys were jealous and put Mary down! They showed that they preferred impersonal charity to direct devotion to Jesus!! Their hearts were far from sincere love and concern for Mary or Jesus. Judas went especially overboard, though. Even though he was one of the Lord's close followers, he didn't really trust in Jesus and His mission. Judas sought his own security through embezzling the groups' funds, since he was the treasurer. If their cause should wash out, Judas would have his own little nest-egg set aside. His trust and treasure and heart were there, and Mary's act deprived him of a chance to steal even more. Judas' "love" was for money and not the poor. He despised both Mary and Jesus for what had taken place and went out to fill his personal money bag in another way. The Gospels report that: He went to the Chief Priests and asked, "What will you give me if I hand Jesus over to you?" They were glad and promised to pay him 30 pieces of silver. And from that moment Judas sought an opportunity to betray Jesus.
SUMMARY: Love for and trust in the wrong things means hatred and darkened hearts concerning the right things! Looking down on genuine zeal and devotion for the Lord is to hold the Lord Himself in contempt and can lead to leaving Him. The examples of the Pharisees and the disciples and Judas teach us to be careful about envy, selfishness and pride, and to hold fast to faith and love lest we spurn Christ!
LOVE FOR JESUS
In contrast to those failures to love Jesus, though, we heard of some outstanding examples of genuine love for Him. Simon the Leper by hosting the supper showed his regard for the Lord! We could also mention Martha and how she loved her Lord dearly! She showed it in doing what she did best: Serving. (True, there had been the time when she made a poor choice, being anxious over meal preparations instead of listening to Jesus teach; yet now she was showing her love for Him by serving Him.)
On this occasion though, the love of one person in particular stands out: Mary's love for her Lord!!! The cost of the expensive perfume she bought was equivalent to what a laborer would earn in about a year's time. Imagine spending thousands of dollars to buy some perfume today, and then using it all up at once! Mary decided to spend it ALL on Jesus... And why NOT?! He had raised her brother Lazarus from the dead! He had shown her that through Him comes true and eternal life!! Could anything with which she might honor Him be too much?
Let's continue with the Bible account: Jesus, aware of the disciples' complaint, said to them, "Let her alone; why do you trouble the woman? She has done a beautiful thing to Me. You always have the poor with you, and whenever you will, you can do good to them; but you will not always have Me. She has done what she could; she has anointed My Body beforehand for burying. And truly I say to you, wherever the Gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her."
Perhaps Mary understood more than the disciples about the Lord's prediction that He would go "to Jerusalem to suffer and die and rise again the third day." She may have also heard rumors of the death threats against Jesus. Whatever all the reasons within her own heart (showing thanks, faith and love before He would depart), she did it sincerely and selflessly. She even wiped Jesus' feet with her hair. (It's doubtful that it was any more culturally customary to clean someone else's feet back then than it is for us today.) Mary did a really amazing thing(!), and whether or not she fully understood it, Jesus gave her credit for anointing His Body for burial beforehand, in effect showing how she felt for Him before it was too late.
No one else ever had the opportunity! Jesus, after giving His life on the Cross for the sins of the world, had to hurriedly be put in Joseph's tomb before the Sabbath sundown, and by Sunday morning when others arrived to anoint Him, He was RISEN!!! As a Psalm says: God did not let Him decay in the grave. He HAD to rise again, because He paid off the world's wages for sin! Now, by faith in Jesus and the atonement He made for us by dying and rising again, we too have guaranteed hope of living forever. What's that worth? A year's income? Hosting or serving a supper? Becoming a regular church volunteer or even a professional church worker: Teacher, Pastor, Missionary, Medical Missionary or Pilot?
Consider closely our Lord's response to Mary's action, when others in their company thought her deed was misguided and worthless. He WELCOMED it! He encouraged that it's better to show your love for others while they're still living and before it's too late. And, As He predicted, the poor are still with us. We have all kinds of chances to help alleviate their needs and of course should participate in doing so. But let's not take away from the glory and honor and love that are due Him first!! Worship is every bit as important as social service!
A bumper sticker urges practicing random acts of kindness. Mary's deed teaches us to practice specific acts to directly honor Christ. These other things followed right after Mary's extravagant act that I didn't yet report here: A great crowd learned that Jesus was at Bethany and came not only on account of Jesus, but also to see Lazarus whom He had raised from the dead. So the Chief Priests planned to put Lazarus also to death. (Now there's a stark comment on the lengths to which unbelieving hatred can go!) Eleven of the disciples must have learned from Mary, though. On the very next morning they were found casting their garments before Jesus, leading the procession of palms to Jerusalem. May God's Spirit teach our hearts to likewise honor Jesus! Amen.