Places of the Passion
Week 1: Bethany
We continue our sermon series called Places of the Passion. Today we walk with Jesus to Bethany. In Bethany we meet Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha. Matthew’s Gospel does not give this woman a name, but John says it was Mary of Bethany.
Bethany is just a mile east of Jerusalem, on the Mt. of Olives. The Jewish Passover is about to begin. It seems Jesus often sees his friends Martha, Mary, and Lazarus when he is in Bethany.
Simon the Leper (who has been healed by Jesus) also lives in Bethany, and his home is where these events take place. He throws a dinner party and invites Jesus and some of the disciples.
Normally women didn’t join men in public events like this, but Mary is there, too. Mary is there ready to teach us about one of the greatest words in the world. Give!
As everyone in the room watches, Mary does two remarkable things.
· First, she pours out very expensive perfume with total abandon. It’s the most valuable thing Mary has, but she will not keep it. She opens it and empties it out to the very last drop.· Second, Mary pours it on Jesus’ head. The only people in the Old Testament whose heads were regularly anointed were kings!
Do you get the connection? Jesus is a king. Actually, Jesus is the King! That’s the main message of Matthew’s Gospel: that Jesus is the King. Because Jesus is the King, Mary gives this gift to him.
Remember, this happens in Bethany during Passover Week. Mary is extravagant. Mary is excessive. Mary goes way over the top. The perfume was worth a year’s wages! And the disciples? “When the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, ‘Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.’”
Mary is generous. The disciples are greedy. Mary gives with abandon. The disciples are miserly. Mary loves the word give. But all the disciples can do is get. Get more. Get ahead. And get out on top.
Mary gives Jesus everything she has and she prepares Jesus to give everything he has. Mary’s strong perfume lingers with Jesus throughout Holy Week—as he makes his way to the cross, marking him with one word—give.
We remember this woman and her generosity because the kingdom/reign of God isn’t about hoarding and stockpiling. The reign of God isn’t about being chintzy and cheap. The reign of God isn’t about get. Get will kill us.
Always and forevermore God’s reign is about one word—give. Give!
Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, shows us that the reign of God is about giving lavishly, giving generously, giving joyfully and giving completely. “Wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” Jesus never says this about anyone else!Thanks to Mary, we can boil life down to one simple word; one word with one syllable; one powerful and life-changing word. Try it out. It will change everything. It will create so much joy. The word? You know. It’s the most powerful word on the planet. G-I-V-E. Give. Amen.