Monday Lenten Luncheon
Vine Street UMC
April 01, 2019
If you watch any of the crime dramas on television, and I mean any of the crime dramas, anything from Perry Mason, to Murder She Wrote, to NCIS Los Angeles or Evening Shade, one of the things that you often hear about is “motive.” Characters often ask, as real law enforcement officers do, “What motive did that person have?” What reason did they have for committing a crime, what motivation would they have for doing such a thing? But crimes aren’t the only thing that requires motivation. Some days we spend more time on the couch than we probably should, simply because we can’t seem to find the motivation to do anything different. We put off filling out our tax forms until the deadline unless we think we’re getting money back, we procrastinate cleaning the house until it annoys us or until we know that we have guests coming over. Just about everything we do has motive assigned to it. We go to work because we need to make some money because we like to have a warm place to live and food to eat. We eat cookies, because, hey, this isn’t hard, we eat cookies because they taste good.
But sometimes we need to look at what motivates our spiritual lives as well. That’s a big part of the story that we hear in John 12:1-8, as Jesus shares a meal at his friend Lazarus’ house:
12:1 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.”
Jesus arrives in Bethany and stops in the home of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. John, and probably everyone else, notices that Lazarus is the guy that used to be dead. It’s almost funny, but you must admit, even today that’s the sort of thing that people would talk about. “Look, Fred! That’s the guy I told you about. He’s the one that woke up at the cemetery and climbed out of the casket, three days after the funeral!”
But anyway, between Jesus and Lazarus, this was probably a prominent and well discussed (gossiped) event. But during the dinner, Mary comes into the room, walks over to where Jesus was reclining (remember that it was traditional at that time to eat in a reclining position, much like sitting in a beach lounger), broke open a bottle of expensive perfume, and poured it over Jesus’s feet. As you can imagine, the entire house was filled with the smell. Just imagine if you poured out an entire bottle of Chanel No. 5. A little dab smells nice, but a whole bottle would almost certainly be overpowering.
There are many ways to interpret what Mary did, and why she did it. It can be interpreted as symbolic of burial as well as an anointing and consecration to royal service. But I don’t want to dwell on what it meant today, instead I want to point out that Jesus highlights Mary’s motives as a stark contrast to Judas’ protests about the expense. Jesus says, “You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” Essentially, Jesus is saying, I think, honoring God, at the right time, and for the right motives, is an important value. There was a limited time to honor Jesus while he was on earth, and Mary chose to do so while he was living rather than save that expensive perfume for his burial.
But let’s also look at the motivations of Judas. John calls him a thief whose greed caused him to want that money in his purse, and I think we should take his word for that, but even if he wasn’t, most of us would have been shocked at the extravagance of what Mary did, and I’m certain that many others, besides, Judas, were just as shocked. Scripture tells us that the perfume that she poured out was worth 300 denarii, or since a day’s wage was one denarius, that’s about a year’s wages for an average laborer. If we do that same math if modern American economics, we discover that in 2015, the average wage for an average American worker, was $56,516. Can you imagine how you would feel if you watched someone pour fifty or sixty thousand dollars’ worth of Chanel No. 5 onto the floor? Even though we may not be thieves, I think that many of us, despite our love for Jesus, would be just as shocked as Judas was.
It’s a difficult thing to compare these two attitudes, the extravagance of Mary and the greed of Judas. But the comparison comes down to the motives of these two people. Mary was motivated by her love for Jesus and her desire to honor him in the best way that she could. Judas’ motives were to honor himself and to put some of that money in his own pocket.
And, as we think about these two people, and as we reflect on their motives, it reminds us that we often need to reflect on our own motives in much the same way. Honoring God is an important value, but when do we cross a line from honoring God to honoring ourselves?
When we build church buildings, and I admit Christ Church is an enormous and incredibly beautiful building, are we building them to honor God or to honor ourselves? Do we want to impress people with the awesomeness of God, or are we trying to impress them that we are the ones who attend church in that awesome building? And what about us personally? Are we getting dressed up on Sunday morning to honor God in his house or to impress other people? Do we attend church to worship God, or are we there to “see and be seen,” to network with other local business people, and to make sure that the people in our community see us going to church because it’s good for business or good for our reputation? Are we putting money in the offering plate because of our love for God or because we’re trying to impress someone? But, at the same time, if our motivation is that we are truly trying to honor God, are we being extravagant enough?
As we move through this season of Lent and come ever closer to the resurrection and the celebration of Easter, let us look deep inside of our selves and consider our own motives. Just who am I trying to impress? Does my life honor God? Does my giving honor God? And do I honor God with…
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*You have been reading a message presented at Vine Street United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.