This a day late, but I was not on the computer much this weekend. My sermon combines the Gospel reading for yesterday, John 12:1-8 with Matthew 26:6-16.
Matthew 26:6-16; John 12:1-8
“Artful Eddie lacked nothing. He was the slickest of the slick lawyers. He was one of the roars of the Roaring Twenties. A crony of Al Capone, he ran the gangster’s dog tracks. He mastered the simple technique of fixing the race by overfeeding seven dogs and betting on the eighth.
“Wealth. Status. Style. Artful Eddie lacked nothing.
“Then why did he turn himself in? Why did he offer to squeal on Capone? What was his motive? Didn’t Eddie know the sure-fire consequences of ratting on the mob?
“He knew, but he’d made up his mind.
“What did he have to gain? What could society give him that he didn’t have? He had money, power, prestige. What was the hitch?
“Eddie revealed the hitch. His son. Eddie had spent his life with the despicable. He had smelled the stench of the underground long enough. For his son, he wanted more. He wanted to give his son a name. And to give his son a name, he would have to clear his own. Eddie was willing to take a risk so that his son could have a clean slate. Artful Eddie never saw his dream come true. After Eddie squealed, the mob remembered. Two shotgun blasts silenced him forever.
“Was it worth it?
“For the son it was. Artful Eddie’s boy lived up to the sacrifice.â€
(Max Lucado, And the Angels Were Silent)
Max Lucado calls this risky love: “love that is willing to take a chance. Love that goes out on a limb. Love that makes a statement and leaves a legacy. Sacrificial love.”
A week before Jesus died we see two very different responses to his ministry of love: two of His friends decided to go out on a limb and show their love for Him while the religious leaders and Judas plot his death.
Simon the leper threw a banquet for Jesus about a week before Jesus died. Apparently, Jesus had healed Simon, although we have no Biblical record of it. It was a risky thing for Simon to have Jesus in his house. Jesus was on the chief priest and elders’ hit list. They were tired of being outdone by a nobody from Galilee, and they had decided to kill Him. Simon took a chance inviting Jesus into his home and throwing a party for Him.
Simon remembered that Jesus had taken a risk on him. Jesus was the one who had ignored the regulations and had touched Simon and healed him. When no one else would have anything to do with Simon, Jesus did. Jesus did more than just heal Simon: He gave him his life back. Where Simon had been an outcast, he was once again part of a community. Where Simon had been all alone, he was now part of a family and had friends. Where there was only death, now there was life. Simon was not going to do less for Jesus. It did not matter what the religious leaders or anyone else thought. As long as Simon had a house, Jesus would have a place to eat, rest, and sleep, no matter what it might cost him.
Simon was not the only one who went out on a limb for Jesus. A woman at the banquet showed her love for Jesus as well.
John names the woman who anointed Jesus with expensive perfume as Mary of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead. According to John this feast happened right after Jesus raised Lazarus. What must have been going through Mary’s mind as she watched Jesus and Lazarus? The scene she would never forget was before a tomb. She would never forget Jesus calling out, “Lazarus, come out!” And her brother came. Not long before she had been mourning her brother’s death. Now he sat with Jesus at Simon’s table eating, laughing, living.
Notice that Mary’s act of love was not spontaneous. She had carried the bottle of perfume from her house to Simon’s. She wanted to show Jesus, in a tangible way, how much she loved Him, so she planned ahead. Her gift was costly–the perfume was worth a year of wages. It might have been the only thing of value she had, and she poured it out (along with herself) on Jesus. She gave Jesus her best.
Mary gave her best to Jesus, then of all people, Jesus’ own disciples criticized her. Almsgiving was encouraged at all times in the Jewish faith, but there was special emphasis on giving to the poor during Passover week. Gerard Sloyan tells us: “Jesus defends Mary by maintaining that she has done a ‘good service’ or work. The rabbis discussed the relative importance of two kinds of “good works”: giving money to the poor and burying the dead. The latter was given a higher priority, because it could not, like almsgiving, be done at any time but only at the required time, and also because it involved personal service, not an impersonal gift of money.” Jesus simply recognizes “that giving to the poor is an ongoing obligation, not one that has to be done at the right time or not at all.” Mary “has performed the superior ‘good work’ by preparing his body for burial at the right time” (John). Jesus quickly defended her act of love, and promised that she would not be forgotten for expressing risky love.
Notice the sharp contrasts between Mary and Judas. Mary lavishes her money on a gift for her Master; Judas bargains away his teacher for a measly thirty pieces of silver. Judas the one who should be risking all to serve Jesus sells Him out because Jesus is not the Messiah he expected. Mary has only seen some of Jesus’ miracles and heard some of His teachings. Judas has seen and heard all of them. Judas is part of the twelve; Mary cannot be because she is a woman. And yet it is Mary who realizes that Jesus means what he says: He is going to die. In a prophetic act, she prepares Him for His death while Judas makes sure it happens.
In this passage, we see four responses to Christ: 1) the plotting of the religious leaders to kill him; 2) the sacrificial response of love from Simon and Mary; 3) the pettiness of the disciples; and 4) the betrayal of Judas. And how about us? Do we respond to Jesus with outright rejection as did the leaders; with the pettiness of the disciples; with calculated self-interest as did Judas; or with an outpouring of our love as did Mary and Simon?
As we come to the close of Lent and look forward to the Passion week, which will start next Sunday, Palm Sunday Who are we? Are we the religious leaders who refuse to let Jesus shows us what it really means to follow God? Are the disciples: it’s okay to give some, but not too much? After all someone might take advantage of us. Are we Judas: do we calculate how much we need to obey in order to get Jesus to do what we whant him to? When Jesus turn out not to be what we think he should be, do we walk away? Or are we Mary and Simons? Willing to give Jesus the best of all we have and pour out our love, time, and possession on him?
Traditionally Lent is a time to be generous: to reach out and minister to those who suffer. To minister to the poor who are still with us. To take seriously Jesus’ words that whatever we do for the least of us, we do for him. In two weeks we will be celebrating His resurrection. Until then what will we do? How will we show the love which Mary and Simon did? Or will we be petty with our time and resources as the disciples were? Or will we be like Judas and only perform an act with something in it for us? I don’t know who the lepers and poor are in your day-to-day life. But I do know there are people all around us who need to see the risky love that Simon and Mary showed Jesus. As we look to the Crucifixion: the ultimate act of risky love, God calls us to share that love with those around us: our family, friends, neighbors, and our enemies. So make that phone call, write that note, go out and have coffee. Remember that “some day” may never come. And when you wonder: Does risky love really work? Just ask the son of Artful Eddie. “Had Eddie lived to see his son Butch grow up, he would have been proud.
“He would have been proud of Butch’s appointment to Annapolis. He would have been proud of the commissioning as a World War II Navy pilot. He would have been proud as he read of his son downing five bombers in the Pacific night and saving the lives of hundreds of crewmen on the carrier Lexington. The name was cleared. The Congressional Medal of Honor which Butch received was proof.
When people say the name O’Hare here in Chicago, they don’t think gangsters–they think aviation heroism. Think about it the next time you fly into the airport named after the son of a gangster gone good. The son of Eddie O’Hare.” (And the Angels Were Silent)
And if you are still wondering if risky love is worth the price, I have two words: The Resurrection.
The picture of O’Hare International is from Virtual Tourist.