So the world may be filled with the fragrance of love!
A sermon preached at St Mary’s Iffley
by Andrew McKearney on 7 April 2019.
The gospel writers suggest that in the last few days before his arrest, the pattern of Jesus’ days was to go to Jerusalem during the day to teach in the temple there, and in the evening to leave the city and spend the night at Bethany, a village just two miles to the east of Jerusalem.
No reason is ever given for this – so we’re left to our own wonderings!
Perhaps Jesus did this for reasons of personal security? To remain in Jerusalem when darkness fell would have been foolish – and indeed when he does get arrested it’s under cover of darkness and in Jerusalem.
Or perhaps the village of Bethany was just much quieter? Jerusalem was full of pilgrims for the Passover. And after a day of teaching in the temple Jesus retired to the quiet of the village of Bethany just two miles away.
Whether it was for quiet, or for security, or for some other reason, there were people there that Jesus knew and homes where he was welcomed. Lazarus, Mary and Martha lived there and it may well have been with them that he stayed these last nights – going up to Jerusalem during the day, and returning to Bethany in the evening.
There are critical questions about the anointing of Jesus that aren’t easy to settle. Each of the gospel writers tells the story of the anointing, but in different ways and for different effect.
Saint John as we heard places the anointing in the home of Lazarus, six days before the Passover and immediately before the triumphal entry into Jerusalem that we shall be marking next Sunday.
Lazarus is the friend whom Jesus had raised from the dead.
Previously his sister Martha had been rebuked for being so busy – and here she is! Busy again! Serving at table!
On the other hand Mary, his other sister, had been commended for choosing the better part ‘sitting at the Lord’s feet and listening to what he’s saying’ and here she is! Same again! By the Lord’s feet!
She takes a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anoints those feet and wipes them with her hair – and the fragrance of the perfume fills the house!
It is so much more than a guest would expect!
What a contrast to Judas. He interrupts and asks: ‘Why was this perfume not sold for 300 denarii and the money given to the poor?’ Jesus defends her: ‘Leave her alone.’
What a contrast to the chief priests whom we heard are not only planning to kill Jesus but Lazarus too!
Saint Mark is another of the gospel writers who, in the last few days of Jesus’ life, recounts the story of a woman who might otherwise have gone unnoticed.
Saint Mark tells us that when Jesus was sitting near the temple treasury, he called his disciples together because he had just seen a poor widow put two small copper coins, worth a penny, into one of the thirteen trumpet shaped collection boxes in the Court of Women.
Remember that she put two of these coins in – in the old translation they were called ‘mites’ because they were so small! She could have divided them keeping one for her own needs, but instead she gives both her coins away.
And Jesus says to his disciples:
‘She out of her poverty has put in everything she had,
all she had to live on.’
It’s another gesture full of love!
As the noose tightens around Jesus, it’s as if the gospel writers are keen to remind us that it’s not the big characters in the story that get anywhere near reacting appropriately to what’s going on!
Neither the chief priests from Jerusalem; nor the crowds gathering there; nor those appointed as his disciples, of whom Judas was one!
Instead notice the people on the edges – you might easily miss them!
Notice them, because it’s not all about power politics, betrayals and denials – leave that to the men!
Notice a poor widow and her two copper coins, Mary and her pound of costly perfume made of pure nard.
Let their love inspire you! So the world may be filled with the fragrance of love!