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On the Journey… Monday of Holy Week

March 30, 2015

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Today is the first day of the journey from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. As I noted last night in my homily at the Fifth Sunday Union Service with First United Methodist, First Presbyterian, and Saint Agatha’s Episcopal congregations in DeFuniak Springs, Florida, this week we need to seriously contemplate the journey of our Lord. In our efforts to “get to Easter Sunday” we too often overlook what happened in the last week of the life of Jesus. Oh we may stop along the way to have a Maundy Thursday service (a foot washing or communion service perhaps) and a Good Friday service (a Tenebrae service or a focus on the Seven Last Words of Christ perhaps), but too often we are in a hurry to get to the Easter Sunrise Service and breakfast! We are ready to have Lent behind us with all of its introspection and impending gloom. However, we must pause and reflect this week if Easter Sunday is going to have any meaning at all.

Lao-Tzu (604 – 531 BCE) said that “a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” For those of us who claim to be Christ followers, the journey to the empty tomb finds its culmination in the last week of Jesus’ life. And so, today, I invite you to take the first step on that journey with me.

Matthew, Mark and Luke all record in their Gospel’s that the first act of Jesus after coming into Jerusalem was the clearing out of the Temple. John, however, places this event at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Interestingly enough, the daily Lectionary readings for Holy Week have John 12:1-11 as the Gospel of the day for Monday in Holy Week. It may be slightly out of chronological order perhaps, but the passage is definitely worth contemplating during Holy Week.

“Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.” (12:1) Jesus came to see his friends Mary, Martha and Lazarus after spending some time in Ephraim near the wilderness with the disciples. He had to pretty much make himself scarce after he raised Lazarus from the dead according to John 11:47-52. Why did he have to “go off the grid” for a while? Well, when the chief priests and Pharisees caught wind of what had happened in Bethany, how Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead, they immediately began to plan a way to capture and kill Jesus.

Put yourselves into the scene with me… We are with Jesus and the disciples as Lazarus was raised from the dead. Wow! What an amazing miracle to experience! And the joy of Mary, Martha and Lazarus must have been incredible. But then word got back that the religious elite were pretty mad and were plotting to kill Jesus. And unlike previous times, they were deadly serious! So we move on with Jesus and the disciples  to “get out of town” so to speak. So now what Jesus? We were headed to Jerusalem and now we are in the wilderness? What’s your plan for Passover? What’s your plan for us? What’s the next move going to be?

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Scripture doesn’t tell us what happened during the time in Ephraim in the region near the wilderness. All it says is that Jesus remained there with the disciples. (11:54) The mood had to have been tense as they hid out in the rocky wilderness and wondered what was going to happen next. And I would guess that word was coming back to them in hiding that Caiaphas, the high priest, had hatched a plan to capture Jesus and have him killed. Their spies were all over Jerusalem and anybody who knew where Jesus was, was under orders of the chief priests and Pharisees to turn that information over to them. (11:55-57)

In my narrow view, I can imagine myself thinking, “okay, we are going to be in hiding for a while… at least until this dies down and someone else is in Caiaphas’ and the Pharisees’ cross-hairs.” I can only imagine the surprise when Jesus tells the disciples that they are going to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover! What? Jesus, are you nuts? We barely got out of there with our lives! And now you want to go back?

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So, once more, they set their eyes towards Jerusalem. Out of the wilderness they would come. And so they returned to Jerusalem. However, the first stop was to Bethany and the home of Lazarus, Mary and Martha. I can imagine that it was a joyous feast that Martha served her family, Jesus and the disciples. After all, Lazarus was alive and well and life had returned back to normal. As normal as it could be, I guess, after your brother becomes a celebrity and person of interest (not in a good way!) for the authorities.

Mary, in act of selfless gratitude for the life of her brother and for the love which she had for Jesus, “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.” (12:3) Wow, what a beautiful gift of love! It was both beautiful and symbolic. The extravagant gift of hospitality would also anticipate the preparation of Jesus’ body for burial in a few days.

Judas, John tells us, was really mad at the waste of money. The perfume, according to his quick calculations, was worth three hundred denarii, or a years wages for a laborer. “Just think of what could have been done with that money! How many poor folks could we have taken care of with that sum? And you poured it onto his feet? Really, Mary? What a waste!”

At this point, I want to pause and reflect on the exchange between Jesus and Judas. John has inserted his own opinion into the story. What if Judas wasn’t the thief you portrayed him to be, John? Doesn’t he still have a point? It was an incredibly extravagant thing to do. And all of that money could have made a positive impact in the lives of so many people. As I put myself in Judas’ shoes, I also wonder if this outburst was a result of all the tension in the air. “We are going back to Jerusalem where they are going to kill you, Jesus! Don’t you get that? Don’t you understand that we are all gonna die? Even you will die, Lazarus!”

Jesus does bring the scene back into focus for all in the house though. “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.” (12:7-8) Perhaps Jesus knew that the scent of that perfume would be with him on the cross… a scent that might somehow be a blessing in the midst of the carnage of the cross. And perhaps he knew that they would not have the proper amount of time to prepare his body for burial on Friday, so Mary’s gift was indeed a symbolic preparation of his body for burial.

Jesus’ point was this, I believe… My time on earth is short. Mary’s gift, while extravagant, was just that, a gift. You will always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me physically here with you. In other words, Judas, there will still be the work to do on behalf of the poor after I am gone. Your job won’t magically end when I am raised up. Instead, each one of you will be equipped by God to continue the work I have begun. In the words of Paul in Philippians 1:6 — “the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.”

As for us, dear reader?  Ponder this question with me: “Are you ready to follow the Lord no matter where he may lead you? Will you join me in this journey of life, faith, hope, and love?”

The pictures were taken on the Irish coast near Dingle. Walking from the church you see the water. Once on the beach it reminded me of the rugged wilderness which Jesus and the disciples were in. And when we returned from the wilderness, the road led to the church. I think these three photos fit into the story told today. I hope they are a blessing, along with the blog, to you.

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2 Comments
  1. Bob, thanks for stopping by Red Letter Believers. I am a retired USAF Chaplains Assistant. Ended up as an E-7 in the WYANG.

    I like your post, a reflection on a familiar passage. The hiding out, then the annointing are two seemingly contrary events, and yet they work in to the final story of the broken savior on a cross, only to be the ruler of death itself three days later.

    And I do love the photos!

    • I worked with the WYANG C-130 crews in Uzbekistan in 2005. Thanks for the comments and I did enjoy Red Letter Believers!

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