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In today’s Gospel this fifth Sunday in Lent, Jesus tells Judas that Mary bought the perfume to keep for the day of his burial. But rather than save it for that day, she uses it when he’s still alive and well.
What exactly is the rush? Mary needs to wait only a few more days to fulfill her original intention. But something in her can’t wait. She anoints Jesus’ feet–not for burial, but for his short, walk toward death. As one writer asked, “What do we do when time grows short?”
Mary offers us an answer. Her response embodies the advice given by writer, Annie Dillard. “Spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place . . . give it, give it all, give it now.” It’s advice for life as much as for writing. This seems to be the reason for Jesus’ blunt response about the poor always being with us. The point is not to be resigned and complacent; it is to be present to what each moment requires. What this moment requires of Mary is an act of reckless anointing. What does this moment require of you?
Today’s Gospel contains a parable, a story with a meaning behind it, and we find it only in Luke’s Gospel. Most often known as the Parable of the Prodigal Son,” it follows on two other parables, those of the lost sheep and the lost coin. They follow a short introduction where it is pointed out that Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them (which pleases the tax collectors and sinners but which annoys and insults the Pharisees and the scribes).
The parables are meant to be about how God rejoices when what is lost is found. The progression is from the sheep to the coin to the son. And all Jesus’ listeners could relate to the joy described when each is “found.” Who can’t relate to being lost and then found? We can all recall the fear of being lost and the unbounded joy in being found — or finding something or someone who was lost.
Where do you find yourself in the story? It is a complex and beautiful one. As a parable it does not give us only one moral except that God’s love is always unconditional and God’s mercy knows no limits.
The story of Moses and the burning bush in the Hebrew Scriptures is the most detailed account of a divine call in Scripture, and one known by people all around the world, portrayed so powerfully in movies like “The 10 Commandments” but also in the Disney film, “Prince of Egypt.”
In the dramatic story of the burning bush – it needs no special affects but gets plenty of them in both films – we see the four-fold pattern of commission, objection, reassurance and sign, as Moses is called to be God’s agent in the liberation of Israel.
Both passages from the New Testament today offer stern wake up calls as well, important to the communities to which they were addressed. In his first letter to the people of Corinth, Paul issues a warning: just because the community in Corinth has experienced God’s grace, just because its members have been chosen to become the body of Christ, does not make them immune to God’s displeasure. No one is, so to speak, “above the law.”
Today’s Gospel recounts the story of a number of people from Galilee being brutally slaughtered by Pontius Pilate’s soldiers while they were presenting their sacrifices. In this horrific act, the blood of the victims was mingled with that of the sacrificial animals. Jesus responds by asking if they thought these Galileans were “worse sinners than all other Galileans” because they suffered in this way.
In both cases, the disasters occurred suddenly and without warning, and the victims had no chance to repent. What is the message here? Life is precarious; repentance cannot be delayed, or as one writer puts it, “Mercy has an expiration date. Don’t put off repentance?.”
As Moses, Paul and Jesus knew, encountering God takes time, wonder, openness, prayer, contemplation, but first and foremost, simply our ready selves. As human beings, made in the image of God, we are programmed to be generous with our time and with one another, ready to see the goodness in one other, quick to forgive, as God is slow to anger and of great kindness. How do you encounter God?
The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom then, shall I fear?View Sermon
As we end this month begun with our reading of Martin Luther King Jr., we can give thanks for the witness of Martin Luther King Jr., Frederick Douglass and thousands of others who in word and deed embodied Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.” May we have the courage to do the same.View Sermon