First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Dr. Cynthia Lindenmeyer
March 18, 2018 – Fifth Sunday in Lent
Scripture: Mark 14:3-9
Sermon: “Just Like Jesus”
3 While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. 4 Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? 5 It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages[a] and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.
6 “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7 The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. 8 She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. 9 Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
I am fascinated by many things, like the zoo, March Madness… But what fascinates me about Scripture is how the stories of the past speak to us in the present. And sometimes, instead of asking questions and analyzing the Scriptures, the Scriptures ask questions of me.
The question this story in Scripture asked of me: “Do I truly appreciate the people who are in my life now?” It’s a question I have been thinking about as my daughter prepares to leave home for college because it reminds me of when I was preparing to leave for college.
I lived with my grandmother and was very close to her growing up. I lived with her after my parent’s divorce, and then again my senior year in high school. After graduation, I would soon report to Fort Dix in New Jersey for Army basic training. She knew that I was about to embark upon a huge life transition and wanted to spend time with me, but I wanted to spend time with my high school friends. Had I known then what I know now, I would have cherished every moment with her.
When studying the Scriptures, theologians get really excited, like March Madness excited, if a story appears in all four Gospels (those are the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) because the means the story must be exceedingly significant. Over 100 narratives in the Gospels and only eleven of those narratives appear in all the Gospels. And of those eleven, seven occur the final week in the life of Jesus. So, only four stories that all four Gospel authors include, and this is one of them.
What is the message that is so important that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John want us to hear?
As we seek to understand the importance of this Scripture story, I ask a bit of emotional vulnerability on your part. Give yourself permission to feel—being able to feel and express emotions is one of the greatest gifts we can share with one another.
This bittersweet, passionate Scripture story evokes deep emotions and reminds me of a bittersweet, passionate song written in the 70s that also evokes deep emotions:
My child arrived just the other day
He came to the world in the usual way
But there were planes to catch, and bills to pay
He learned to walk while I was away
And he was talking ‘fore I knew it, and as he grew
He’d say, “I’m gonna be like you, dad
You know I’m gonna be like you.”
What would happen if we emotionally connect to this story? While Jesus is having dinner at a leper’s home, a woman comes with expensive oil and anoints Jesus as if preparing him for burial. Those at the dinner are irritated with the woman’s actions because they perceive she is wasting what is valuable, and they rebuke her. Something, some deep emotion, caused the woman to pour oil equivalent to one year’s worth of wages upon Jesus. One year! She gives all she has in her vulnerable act of devotion—and the others who witness her act of love react with contempt and criticism.
My son turned ten just the other day
He said, “Thanks for the ball, dad; come on, let’s play
Can you teach me to throw?”
I said, “Not today, I got a lot to do.”
He said, “That’s okay.”
And he walked away, but his smile never dimmed
And said, “I’m gonna be like him, yeah
You know I’m gonna be like him.”
Researchers who engaged in a study published two years ago in Business Insider responded that, “Like a Greek tragedy, what we learned was simultaneously expected and astonishing—and a little bit sad.” What was the research?
How often we touch our iPhones. Using the data from 1.1 million people over the course of five days, researchers found that we touch our iPhones 2,617x a day…and that was two years ago-probably more now! We are attached to our phones cognitively and emotionally. And sometimes we are not present to those whom we are with.
Well, he came from college just the other day
So much like a man, I just had to say
“Son, I’m proud of you. Can you sit for a while?”
He shook his head, and he said with a smile
“What I’d really like, dad, is to borrow the car keys
See you later; can I have them please?”
We have this idea of life’s progression to achieve success—graduation, college, getting a job. This woman’s actions don’t conform to the cultural expectations of how things are supposed to go, and her act of love is met with criticism.
Maybe the message in this story is that the world doesn’t make sense because we try to live in a world without love. Love doesn’t fit into a system of capitalism. However, our minds are so trained to think about economic gain, climbing the ladder of progression, because we live in a society full of systems that keeps us in a secular, worldly labyrinth that measures success by accumulated wealth, not the amount of love one gives.
The woman loves Jesus, and echoes the sacrifice Christ will soon make—What if this un-named woman, more than any other character we encounter in the Gospels, is the one who is more like Christ—her faith has evolved to where she understands the economics of love, not money?
I’ve long since retired, and my son’s moved away
I called him up just the other day
I said, “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind.”
He said, “I’d love to, dad, if I could find the time
You see, my new job’s a hassle, and the kid’s got the flu
But it’s sure nice talking to you, dad
It’s been sure nice talking to you.”
And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me
He’d grown up just like me
My boy was just like me
Many here have lost loved ones. If I could go back in time, I would have spent much more time with my grandmother. Her funeral was weeks after my son was born in NY, and I didn’t attend her funeral at the Methodist Church in Houston that helped form so much of my religious foundation. The same church that I attended arguing with my grandmother the entire car ride there Sunday after Sunday. So life goes. We complain. We argue. We have regrets and I wonder if those who all spent time with Jesus to tell this story regret that they did not express their love for Christ lavishly and outwardly like the woman?
The woman turns out to be the only one who truly sees Jesus for who he is and what he is about to do. Those who criticized the woman had grown up just like the economic system of rewards they had embraced. Jesus responds to their criticism by quoting from Deuteronomy, saying the poor will always be with us. But to Jesus, the poor are not the ones economically poor, but who are spiritually poor because they measure relationships in a system of ambition and greed, not love.
And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man in the moon
When you coming home, son?
I don’t know when
But we’ll get together then
You know we’ll have a good time then
The Scripture found in all four Gospels confronts us with one of the most important questions in life—“Do we love and appreciate others?” Maybe that is why this story is in all four Gospels. Had the Gospel authors known then (when Jesus was alive) what they knew when writing the Gospels, would they have cherished Jesus and understood why the woman was anointing Jesus with costly oil?
Maybe that is why all four Gospel writers are inspired to tell this story. To convey the important message to others that the woman understood who Jesus was—a friend who loved others even if they were too busy to truly appreciate him. A friend who loved others and put no price tag on that relationship.
The woman’s actions parallel those of Jesus. She understands the entire ministry of Jesus and is remembered for her vulnerable act of love.
So Jesus gathered his followers around a table of remembrance—and he looked at their brokenness and their fears, and in love for them he took the bread from the table gave thanks broke it and said, “Eat this together, and remember the extravagance of love.”
He took the cup gave thanks, shared it with them—“Drink of the same cup, remember the new covenant of God’s love for all, and may you love one another as I have loved you, for none of us regret actions of love.
And in praise and thanksgiving in remembrance of the mighty acts, life and teaching of Jesus we proclaim the mystery of our faith
“Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again”