The following sermon was preached by Kimberly Vaughn, LSTC M.Div. senior, in Augustana Chapel at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago on Monday, March 17, 2008.
What an amazing gesture by Mary. She takes this perfumed oil – very expensive oil – and pours it all over Jesus' feet. Everyone is gathered for a feast. Why the feast? Could it be to celebrate Lazarus and his new lease on life? Or is it to celebrate Jesus, the One who restored Lazarus' life? What were the motives of Martha and Mary?
That is today's question – what motivates each person in this story?
What were the motives of the sisters at this feast? Was it just an evening hanging out with friends? Was it thankfulness for the life of their brother?
What were Mary's motives for anointing Jesus' feet? Why didn't she simply use water, since guests customarily received a basin of water to wash the dirt off their feet? Why not offer this oil to the disciples? Was it her thankfulness for new life? Or did she know that the One she anointed was on a difficult path; one that would soon take his own life? Why such a costly act, with such expensive oil? It seems that to Mary, money was no object. Such a costly act, for One who would soon do an even costlier act.
And what about the motives of Judas? Did he really care about the poor? Why show concern now? Notice Jesus' response: "You always have the poor with you." Was Jesus reading Judas' heart? After all, they had been together for a long time now. Hear Jesus' words this way: "Do you remember the poor every day? Will you remember me? Or will I become a name you'll drop when it's convenient for you, after I'm gone? Will you remember me the way you remember the poor?"
We can easily guess the motives of the ones who plotted against Jesus: to stop this charismatic movement; to prevent Lazarus' story from spreading; and to regain the favor of the people.
But what are God's greater motives? Could it be to see that, through Mary, the truth of the Gospel would be proclaimed? Could it be to point us to remember the poor and oppressed all the time, and to have real relationships with one another? In Treasures Old and New, Gail Ramshaw writes that "[t]he least that Christians who are not poor can do, anointed by [the] Spirit, is hold the needs of the poor before God every single week." (p. 322). Or, is God showing us God's most costly act: Jesus' road to Calvary, revealing to us God's own self on the cross, a costly, scandalous act? Just as Mary knows that her gift was priceless, God's priceless act, that priceless grace, goes far beyond our understanding.
As we prepare to walk this week the road to Calvary, we remember Mary. We remember Jesus' words: "You always have the poor with you." At the end of service today, you will have the opportunity to receive oil at the font on your way out. As you receive the oil, remember. Remember the poor. Remember Mary. Remember what motivates you. And most of all, remember what motivates God towards such priceless grace.