March 31, 2019: "Were You There In The Home?"
March 31, 2019 Rev. Rhonda Blevins, DMIN
Were You There in the Home?
(Mary of Bethany Monologue)
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”______
Hello! My name is Mary. No, not that Mary—she was Jesus’ mother. No, not that Mary either—she was from Magdala. I’m from Bethany—“Mary of Bethany” I’ve come to be known. I also want you to know that I’m not the “sinful” woman mentioned in other anointing stories. I’ve had a hard time shaking that reputation. Truth be told, I’m way too boring for that misnomer.
Perhaps you know me in relation to my siblings. My sister is Martha. Martha is . . . let’s just say she’s . . . more talkative than me. My dear sister is the strong, busy type. “Large and in charge,” you might say. Me? I’m quieter—more contemplative. You may remember the story about me sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to him teaching the disciples. (You see, Jesus would often stay with Martha, and my brother, Lazarus, and I when he would come to Jerusalem. Our little town, Bethany, is just a couple of miles outside Jerusalem to the east.) On this one occasion, Martha wasn’t happy because I wasn’t helping her in the kitchen. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to help; it was that I was enthralled with Jesus and what he had to say. There was a wisdom—like deep truth springing forth from a bottomless well of absolute being. Anyway, Martha wasn’t happy that I wasn’t helping, and she came in to fuss about me to Jesus. She said, “Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” Jesus told my sister that I had made the better choice. I didn’t say anything (but I have to confess that inside I was grinning from ear to ear!)
So I’m the quieter sister; I’m also known as the emotional one. I suppose that’s true. You’ve probably heard about when Lazarus died. He had fallen gravely ill, so Martha and I sent word to Jesus. He could heal people, you know, and we thought for sure Jesus would be able to heal Lazarus if he were there. But Jesus didn’t come right away. He chose to stay where he was for two more days after receiving our message. And Lazarus died.
Martha and I did everything you do in our culture when someone dies. We closed our brother’s eyes. We kissed him one final time. We washed his cold, limp body. We anointed him with burial perfumes. We wrapped him in burial cloths. We covered his face. Then our friends came to mourn. We walked in front of the procession as the men carried my brother’s body to the vault. We watched as they placed him inside, and as they moved the stone to seal the vault. All this to say, my brother was dead. I’ll say it again—if Jesus had been there, I know he could have healed my brother.
So when Jesus finally made his way to Bethany, four days after Lazarus had died, I didn’t run out to meet him like Martha did. I don’t know why, exactly. Guests were in our home was part of it . . . maybe I wasn’t very happy with Jesus. When Martha got back home from meeting Jesus just outside of town, she told me Jesus had called for me, so I went. When I saw Jesus, I fell at his feet, sobbing. You might say I scolded him: “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.” He asked me where we had placed Lazarus’ body, as his tears intermingled with my tears. If I doubted Jesus’ love for my brother, all doubt vanished in those tears.
We took Jesus to the place where Lazarus lay; Jesus asked for the stone to be removed. We were all thinking it but Martha said it, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” But Jesus demanded the stone be rolled away. He looked up into the heavens and prayed. Then he spoke . . . in a loud booming voice that seemed to rattle the hillside, “Lazarus, come forth.” Now, you may find it hard to believe what happened next. I can hardly believe it myself. But my brother, dead for four days, made his way out of the tomb, his hands, his feet, his face still bound by the cloths my sister and I so meticulously wrapped him in four days prior. Lazarus was alive! Jesus raised him from the dead!
While this miracle was so very personal to my family, word of this miracle spread throughout the village and all the way to Jerusalem and the high priest. People everywhere were starting to believe, like us, that Jesus was the Messiah! The powers that be in Jerusalem had seen Jesus as a nuisance—now he was becoming a serious threat. They put a bounty on Jesus’ head, and planned to kill Lazarus too—you know, hide the evidence. So Jesus and his disciples had to leave town.
A few days before the Passover, Jesus and his friends came back to our home. That’s the setting of the story you heard read earlier. Martha, Lazarus and I decided to throw a party—a feast to celebrate Jesus and what he had done for my brother. Martha served (no surprise there), and my brother, whom I had anointed with nard and wrapped in burial cloths, sat at table with Jesus and his friends, laughing and eating and drinking. I looked at my brother, and at Jesus, and was overcome with emotion. It was gratitude. It was love. It was . . .
I needed to respond in some extraordinary way in light of such an extraordinary miracle. All I could think to do . . . or maybe I was feeling instead of thinking . . . I went to retrieve the jar that held the burial perfume I purchased after Ciaphas declared his plan to kill Jesus. I know it was expensive—a year’s wages for most people. But this was the only thing that seemed fitting to express the enormity of my feelings for this man—this—Messiah. So once again I fell at Jesus feet, and broke open the jar. I took my hair down from the tightly wound bun, and wiped Jesus feet with my hair. The symbolism wasn’t lost on Jesus. This was a burial rite. Jesus would soon be dead. Too many powerful people wanted him gone. I knew it, and so did he. The others . . . they couldn’t bring themselves to admit it.
I get that this act was extravagant. I get that I made people uncomfortable. I do. But I don’t regret it. Especially given that Jesus defended my actions when Judas suggested that I was wasteful—that the expensive nard could have been sold, and the money given to the poor. Some people think that was the straw that broke the camel’s back for Judas—if he’d been on the cusp between serving Jesus or selling him out—that did it. Jesus rebuked Judas, and affirmed me. I wish things had gone differently for him.
I’m here today to tell you my story, and to ask one question: you see, my act of love and devotion in my home that day was the most fitting, the most appropriate, the most extraordinary demonstration of my love that I could conceive in response to the extraordinary love and power of Jesus. Here’s my question for you: how will you demonstrate your love for the Lord?
I don’t imagine it will be wiping his feet with your hair (which might prove quite difficult for some of you.) What extraordinary way can you respond to the love, the grace, the mercy, the forgiveness that each of us has received? Saying you love the Lord is one thing; showing you love the Lord is quite another. Think of it this way: what’s your most treasured possession? Your health? Your 401k? Your family? Your six-pack abs? Whatever you treasure the most—maybe that’s what you can dedicate to the Lord. Have you ever considered dedicating your family, your health, your retirement savings to God? “Lord, I dedicate my family to you. They are yours.” “Lord, you’ve given me life and some measure of health. I dedicate my body, my health, my life to you.” “Lord, how fortunate I am to have money in the bank while the vast majority of humans have zero savings. I dedicate my wealth to you. Show me how to break it open and pour it out for you.”
Now remember, Jesus didn’t demand this extravagant outpouring of love from me, nor does he demand it from you. It would have had less meaning had it been required. No, this was my choice, my decision, and it was pure joy. Your decision is your own as well.
Allow me to ask once again, how will you demonstrate your love for the Lord?