From Pastor Kenny's Desk
April 7, 2019
Six days before Passover, Jesus went to Bethany, the village of Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. There they gave a banquet in Jesus’ honor, at which Martha served. Lazarus was one of those at the table. Mary brought a pound of costly ointment, pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus, wiping them with her hair. The house was full of the scent of the ointment.
Judas Iscariot, one of the disciples – the one who was to betray Jesus – protested, “Why wasn’t this ointment sold? It could have brought nearly a year’s wages, and the money been given to poor people!” Judas didn’t say this because he was concerned for poor people, but because he was a thief. He was in charge of the common fund and would help himself to it.
So Jesus replied, “leave her alone. She did this in preparation for my burial. You have poor people with you always. But you won’t always have me.”
~ John 12:1-8
For many years I have enjoyed reading this passage because of it’s vivid imagery and dramatic introduction of the passion story that is about to begin. Yet, I have also struggled to preach it. Not only is there the scene of Mary washing Jesus’ feet with her hair but also the undercurrent of suspicion about Judas, the significance of the perfume in relation to burial customs, and Jesus’ widely misinterpreted line about always having the poor with us. Lots to talk about, most of which … I believe … needs first to be unpacked and explained!
However, what struck me this week was simply how unexpected most of the actions of this scene were. It was unexpected that someone would use such a costly amount of perfume to clean someone’s feet. It was unexpected … at least to those in attendance … that Jesus would dampen the mood of the feast and gift by
talking about his death. And it was unexpected that he would engage in an argument over dinner with one of his disciples.
But what was perhaps most unexpected is that Jesus is anointed by Mary. In that time and place, it was usually men who anointed men … it was considered taboo for a man to be touched by a woman. Still more, women’s loose hair was perceived as being sensual by men in Galilean culture, as it is still true in some segments of present-day society. The same Mary that anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume is the same one who sat at his feet to study.
This story reminds us that for Jesus, women are more than sexual objects and children-rearing machines. That’s why Jesus does not have a problem with being touched by women, seeing them with their hair down, with women talking to men or being active with their bodies and alive in their senses. Jesus embraces women with respect and dignity and sees women as equal at the intellectual level, at the salary level, and at all levels. This is radical as it goes against the cultural norms of times the in which Jesus lived. Sadly … believe it or not … we have not come very far in standing against many of these same stereotypes of women.
All of which reminds me that God is often up to unexpected things with, for, and through unexpected people. People expected the messiah to look like King David; what they got instead was a former carpenter and itinerant preacher. The crowds who welcome Jesus a few verses after these expected Jesus to throw out the Romans; instead he is crucified by them. Even his followers expect his crucifixion to be the end of the story; it turns out to be just the beginning.
And of course this isn’t the half of it. Sarah wasn’t expected to have children, let alone found a dynasty. Moses wasn’t expected to lead the Israelites to freedom. Miriam wasn’t expected to be the prophetess of Israel teaching her people to sing of God’s victory over the Egyptians. The glowing-faced shepherd boy David wasn’t supposed to be king. And on and on and on.
God regularly loves to do the unexpected with, for, and through unexpected people. And the culmination of Lent and celebration of Easter are the highlight of the work and activity of this unexpected God … as death is assumed to have the last word … until Jesus is raised from the dead.
I believe the question for us to consider is: what do we expect of God … to come in power, to answer our prayers as we would like, to favor our political candidate or sports team … and are we prepared to be surprised as God again does the unexpected?
Or, even more interesting, we might also ask where God might be at work in unexpected ways in our lives, in our congregation, and within our community? How is God doing the unexpected through the ministries of MCC Richmond? Through the Vicky Hester Food Pantry, The Lounge, in Sunday School, at Tuesday Line Dance Lessons at Babe’s, through the Bread Ministry, or even through our fundraisers? How might God bring unexpected blessing in ways we never imaged? Or how might God do the unexpected as we share a meal together after Sunday worship or at Living Wednesday Dinner Church? What might the unexpected blessing be for those who are hungry and unable to purchase food or those who are lonely and have the opportunity to share a meal who others? Or how might God bring the unexpected for those who utilize our church facility and feel safe to open up and feel welcome to participate in the Mental Health Support Group, the Bi+ Discussion Group, 12 Step meetings, classes, advocacy groups and more. Have you considered the unexpected ways God uses the Good Neighbor Fund to help with life sustaining resources and more for those in need?. Or how might God do the unexpected as we strive to learn more about the power of simply opening the church doors with the intention of providing a space of safety, rest and comfort for folks living on the edge?
We also might ask whom God might work through next ... by looking at those within our congregation on any given Sunday. God may be about to use each of them in a surprising way to care for you, to offer a listening ear, to do volunteer ministry and personal work with faithfulness and courage, to stand up for those who are less fortunate, to resist peer pressure at work and offer an alternative to those watching. Who knows? What we do know is that God is regularly about the business of surprising us with where God shows up, whom God uses, and what God accomplishes.
Can you IMAGINE a world where we keep our eyes open for traces of the predictably unexpected God, the One who shows up where we least expect God to be, and always for good. Can you imagine a world of self-less love where our action and motivations demonstrate a love that has no boundaries or limits … a love that is given freely in ALL we do because of God’s love given to us. A world where our eyes are open to the surprising ways God will use each other to care for one another and the world God loves so much. A world that remembers that the God who unexpectedly used Mary to anoint God’s Son is also using each one of us to do unexpected and marvelous things. Thanks be to God!