The story is told about a man who went to his doctor and told him that he hasn’t been feeling well. The doctor examined him, and then left the room and came back with three different bottles of pills.
The doctor told him, “Take the green pill with a big glass of water when you get up. Take the blue pill with a big glass of water after lunch. Then after your evening meal before going to bed, take the red pill with another big glass of water.”
The man was startled to be put on so much medicine and he asked, “Wow doctor, exactly what’s my problem?” The doctor said, “You aren’t drinking enough water.”
It is important to know exactly what our problem is, isn’t it, so that we can fix it.
In our gospel lesson today we see Jesus with Mary and Martha and Lazarus and they are having a celebration dinner, a thank-you dinner or whatever the kind of dinner one has when one has come back from the dead. But the dinner and the conversations were eclipsed when Mary took a pound of perfume and anoints the feet of Jesus and then wipes it with her hair. The perfume’s fragrance fills the house. It is a stunning move of thankfulness on the part of Mary. It was worth three hundred denarii. Three hundred denarii was a year’s wages in those days, in our money it would have been worth anywhere from 35 to 40 thousand dollars. So it was quite a substantial sort of thank-you gift! On top of the extravagance of the gift was the fact that then Mary let down her hair. This may have been even more shocking to those who were present than the expensive perfume. Jewish women did not let down their hair in public. And then, then she wiped his feet with her hair. Cleaning feet was reserved for the servants; it was a job for the most humble of servants. Yet Mary not only is at his feet, anointing them with very expensive perfume, but then wipes his feet with her hair!
Everyone is startled but there were some, one in particular, Judas Iscariot, who is angered. He says in essence, what a waste! We could have sold that perfume for the 35 or 40 thousand dollars rather than simply pour it down the drain like she did. And then we could have done something significant like give it to the poor; we could have given it to people who really needed money; that would have been a good use of this rather than what she did. In the other gospel accounts we hear that Judas has apparently stirred up some of the other disciples as well and there is a small group of them that begin to scold Mary. But Jesus doesn’t agree with him and in fact shuts him down and tells him and the others to leave her alone.
This is an intriguing little story isn’t it? There are two people being contrasted here: Mary and Judas.
Thinking of Mary brings to mind an interview I read about. A religious talk show hostess was talking with a woman who had recently become a Christian. Until her conversion, this woman had lived in the fast lane, and teetered on the brink of destruction. After her conversion this woman said, “I can’t express the sense of gratitude that I feel since God has forgiven me and changed my life.”
The talk show hostess understood and she said, “I know what you mean. Every day I thank God for saving me too!” And then she added, “You know what I’ve noticed though? There are some people who don’t have the same sense of gratitude. In fact, I’ve noticed that for many people, it’s not so much what God had done for them, but what they still want God to do!”
This certainly wasn’t the case for Mary. Heartfelt thankfulness, love and devotion were all intricately bound together in her stunning act of humility.
Judas, on the other hand, was angered at Mary and what she had done. He was mad because first he didn’t get a chance to skim some of that money off the top, but he felt this pouring of the perfume upon Jesus feet was a colossal waste of money. He and some of the other disciples had grown accustomed to seeing the wondrous miracles that Jesus performed and those miracles no longer amazed them. The raising of Lazarus from the dead had not even impressed them. Their hearts had grown hard. Discipleship had become or was becoming old hat. There was no freshness and wonder at who Jesus was and the significance of his being among them had grown too familiar. Familiarity had bred contempt and this is what Judas displays here. It is interesting to note that we see in Matthew’s gospel right after this event that Judas goes to the high priests and offers to betray Jesus.
So what can we learn from this event, from this story in the life of Jesus? Certainly we see several things. First, we see Jesus appreciates thankfulness. He likes it. He likes heartfelt humble thankfulness. Sometimes it is easy to say the words but yet not to feel much from our hearts. Rather like when someone passes us a dish of food at the table, or when someone holds the door, or does us some sort of favor and we say thanks. And sure it is good to be polite. Yet as we look at our lives and at our salvation we know intellectually that we ought to be extremely thankful but our hearts don’t always really feel it. When we are in this situation we need to ask for help. We need to ask God to help us to see and understand, to really get it, how much he has given us and how thankful we need to be. That is our first lesson. Be thankful—be thankful from our hearts.
The second is actually the flip side of the same lesson. That it is too easy to become hardened and perfunctory in our following Jesus, just like these disciples and Judas had become. We talk about how much love Jesus demonstrated to the world by humbling himself to become a man and living among us. We talk about how much love Jesus demonstrated to the world by voluntarily suffering and going to the cross on our behalf. And yet, all too often we are not amazed at his love. All too often it is simply business as usual as a Christian and we go through the motions during the week or at our services. There is a great spiritual danger for us when this happens. What is this danger? The danger is losing the joy and the life of our Christianity. I am convinced that if we are not aware of God’s love in our lives, we are unable to feel God’s presence. If in fact we are not amazed at his great love for us; if our hearts are not stirred when we consider what all Jesus has done on our behalf, then we desperately need to pray that God will open our eyes to see and understand how much in fact we are loved.
What is going on inside you and me? Do we feel God’s joy and life? Do we sense his love for us or are we simply going through the motions? If we are simply going through the motions, then we have a spiritual problem, a spiritual problem that even drinking three glasses of water will not solve.
It is the fifth Sunday of Lent. Let us pray that God will awaken us and awaken our hearts so that we will have wonder and amazement at how much God loves us and be filled with his love and joy. Amen