158: March 13, 2016
318: April 7, 2019
It was on the Wednesday that they called him a waster. The place smelled like the perfume department of a mall. It was as if somebody had bumped their elbow against a bottle and sent it crashing to the floor, setting off the most expensive stink bomb on earth. But it happened in a house, not a shop.
And the woman who broke the bottle was no casual afternoon shopper. She was the penniless poorest of the poor, giving away the only precious thing she had. And he sat still while she poured the liquid all over his head... as unnecessary as aftershave on a full crop of hair and a bearded chin. And those who smelled it, and those who saw it, and those who remembered that he was against extravagance, called him a waster.
They forgot that he was also the poorest of the poor. And they who had much and who had given him nothing, objected to a pauper giving him everything. Jealousy was in the air when a poor woman's generosity became an embarrassment to their tight-fistedness... That was on the Wednesday, when they called him a waster.
-Iona Community, Scotland
Context - v. 1 “Six Days”
Lazarus has just been raised from the dead (John 11)
Penultimate number and penultimate story
Jesus will die on the penultimate day (Friday)
Story right before Palm Sunday (In John’s Gospel)
Saturday before Palm Sunday
Six days before the passover (Crucifixion of Jesus)
v.2 is often overlooked - Martha served- diakonia
12:26 - “Whoever serves me must follow me. Wherever I am, there my servant will also be. My Father will honor whoever serves me.”
Both Martha and Mary serve Jesus
Mary and Martha - Martha prepares the meal and Mary anoints
Sister of Lazarus
Motivations are never mentioned
Very expensive- most likely imported from India
Years wages worth - pure, not watered down
Seemingly wasteful and extravagant
The smell of the perfume would have clung to Jesus even unto dying on the cross- as he is being crucified he may still have been able to smell the anointing Nard
Foot-washing or Anointing
Jewish women were not allowed to “let their hair down” in public
Sensual act of touching and washing Jesus feet - he is not her husband
No more appropriate then than it would have been now
Mary does what Jesus will institute later on Maundy Thursday - she demonstrates servitude and love
The anointing shows she (unlike the 12) knows Jesus will die
Kings and prophets were anointed - Jesus’ trial will focus on Kingship “Are you the King of the Jews?”
Anointing a body for burial
What does it mean to love and worship a crucified King?
Understandable concern and outrage - why waste when there is need?
Need for clarification (v.6) - Judas did not care for the poor
Judas as the anti-Mary
Mary = radical service, love and devotion
Judas = self interest, own motivations and doubt
Directly connected to Deuteronomy 15:7-11:
7 Now if there are some poor persons among you, say one of your fellow Israelites in one of your cities in the land that the LORD your God is giving you, don't be hard-hearted or tightfisted toward your poor fellow Israelites.8 To the contrary! Open your hand wide to them. You must generously lend them whatever they need.9 But watch yourself! Make sure no wicked thought crosses your mind, such as, The seventh year is coming—the year of debt cancellation—so that you resent your poor fellow Israelites and don't give them anything. If you do that, they will cry out to the LORD against you, and you will be guilty of sin.10 No, give generously to needy persons. Don't resent giving to them because it is this very thing that will lead to the LORD your God's blessing you in all you do and work at.11 Poor persons will never disappear from the earth. That's why I'm giving you this command: you must open your hand generously to your fellow Israelites, to the needy among you, and to the poor who live with you in your land.
To have the poor among you in such abundance is shameful - Judas will always have the poor among him because he does not share what he has, but seeks only for himself (see verse 6)
Is this the proper translation? (see Lindsey Trozzo’s great commentary at workingpreacher.com)
Ἔχετε - which is translated “You will have” can be indicative OR imperative which can be translated “Have the poor with you always” or “Keep the poor with you always”
Mary’s anointing shows that she, unlike all the other disciples “gets it”. She offers a gift of extravagant, sacrificial worship that affirms Jesus as crucified king.
Thoughts and Questions
Service to others (as exemplified in Martha and Mary) is rooted in devotion to Jesus. Do we always tie the two together?
Are our actions of outreach and service rooted in faith?
Is our faith exemplified in extravagant sacrifice and service?
We may not be able to “fix poverty” - we cannot do it with God’s help, but that should never prevent us from service to others.
Literary context contains some dangerous anti-Jewish thinking if removed from Paul’s greater understanding.
Refers to “the dogs” who practice circumcision and refers to it as “mutilation.”
“The dogs” mustm refer to Jewish believers who insist on newcomers being first circumcised before they could be baptized. What we see is one side of a family fight. Paul’s harsh words must not be construed across time to include all Jews.
“Paul isn’t opposed to Jewish Christians who continue to keep the Law. Rather, his reaction to the dogs is against those who require non-Jewish church members to keep the Law in the same way Jews do. He argues that non-Jews experience a full relationship with God without adopting those elements of the Law that were intended only for Jews.” (Common English Study Bible notes. p. 378NT)
This passage begins with his response to this group that wants to require new believers to become circumcised.
“We are the circumcision. We are the ones who serve by God’s Spirit and boast in Christ Jesus. We don’t put our confidence in rituals performed on the body, though I have good reason to have this kind of confidence…” (Philippians 3:3-4)
V. 5-6: Paul’s resume
Wants to prove that he is an insider. He knows of what he speaks. When it came to the Law, he was all in.
V. 5: From birth. Circumcised on eighth day, tribe of Benjamin. Hebrew.
V. 6: Into adulthood. Pharisaic observance of Law, Harrased Christians, Blameless under the Law.
V. 7: All of these things that at one time I would have counted as assets, I now move to the liabilities column
I have lost everything for Christ - but what I lost is sewer trash (or dung- CEB adds the word ‘sewer’ to denote a particular type of trash that the NRSV leaves out)
Place as an “insider” with God
Given up “chosenness,” and instead taken up Christ
Take up the suffering of Christ as well as the Resurrection.
Resurrection is more than life after death.
Death and Resurrection, Suffering and Perfection
“In verses 10-11 Paul speaks of Easter, Good Friday, and Easter. For Paul, the resurrection interpreted the cross, planting it centrally not only in his faith but also in the style of his life and ministry. Rather than erasing Good Friday, Easter was God’s vindication of Good Friday as the definition of God’s way in the world and for the world: obedience, suffering, death… Taking the form of a servant and being obedient to death took shape in word and deed, in concrete acts of ministry.” (Fred Craddock, Interpretation: Philippians, p. 61)
“Faith for [Paul] involved running, wrestling, striving, and fighting, none of which would end until the day of Christ” (Craddock, 61).
Pursuit of perfection
Resurrection is not about after death
Pursuing perfection is about this life.
“Forget about the things behind me and reach for the things ahead of me”
“Despite the significant change Paul has experienced, he is careful to acknowledge that he has not yet arrived at the goal. The goal itself appears to be of two sorts.”
Being with Christ following his own death
NRSV: “sharing of his sufferings;” CEB: “participation in his sufferings.” NRSV feels like an emotion of empathy, while CEB feels more active.
NRSV: “resurrection from the dead;” CEB: “resurrection of the dead.”
CEB feels like it is more about an age, not an event. Preposition from makes it feel like the Resurrection is of one particular body - presumably Paul’s. As opposed to Paul hoping to be a part of the Resurrection of the dead, which is not so much about dead and living bodies as it is about an age of full, whole, woken, authentic life.
“The English translation needs to be more forceful, as in ‘because I have been overtaken by Christ Jesus.’ Paul’s understanding that he was seized or captured by Christ, not that he initiated the relationship, or that he earned it somehow. Because of that seizure, which Paul now understands to have been a gift of grace, he continues to strive toward what lies ahead.” (Beverly Gaventa, Texts for Preaching, Year A, p. 512-3)
Common English translates v. 12 with language of “grabbed hold me”
Thoughts from Africa Study Bible:
Swahili proverb: “He who wants does not tire; when he tires, he has what he wants.” This means that once a person has what he or she wants, then that person can rest… As believers in Jesus, we cannot take a holiday from living out our Christianity. We must press forwards with firm purpose until we receive our final prize. Let us not be distracted by worldly pressures and concerns or be discouraged by obstacles.”
Every person of faith should examine the question “I was _________, and because of Christ I am ________”
If you were building your resume, what would it be?
For Me (Robb): I was… born a Christian, a white male, middle class American.
Is it possible to truly give up these emblems of privilege?
Instead, perhaps we can give up the comfort, blind allegiance to status quo, complacency about the plight of others.
What have you given up for Christ? What do we take up for Christ? Give up a life that may have appearance of righteousness, but is really empty. Take up authentic life that is lived for a purpose. Take up life knowing Christ - Christ’s path, forgiveness, invitation, grace, and even his suffering.
The first five historic questions of John Wesley:
Have you faith in Christ?
Are you going on to perfection?
Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life?
Are you earnestly striving after it?
Are you resolved to devote yourself wholly to God and his work?
“Paul’s interpretation of his own conversion is highly suggestive for contemporary reflection on what it means to proclaim the gospel. Unlike many traditional approaches to evangelistic preaching, which offer the gospel as the answer to problems in people’s lives, Paul understands the gospel to be just the opposite. It gave him no answers to problems, but instead it disturbed his answers and sent him in search of a new ‘solution,’ a new understanding. More precisely, it thrust a new understanding on him, an understanding that required radical reassessment of his past, present, and future.” (Gaventa, p. 514)
“Among the exiles, about a generation after the time of Ezekiel, there lived a person with a sense of divine calling, whom we now call Second Isaiah, the author of the materials of Isaiah 40-55. This prophet’s major mission was the battle against cognitive surrender.” (Donald Gowan, Theology of the Prophetic Books: The Death and Resurrection of Israel, p. 147).
Surprising then, for any Scripture, but especially for this prophet to tell people to forget the past. Most of the time the Torah and the Prophets exhort the people to “remember.” Most of the trouble comes when people forget God and what God has done.
“Perhaps this passage might be summarized: The Lord is on the verge of doing such a startlingly new thing that models for this impending act of grace are to be found almost nowhere” (James Newsome, Texts for Preaching, Year C, p. 229)
v. 16-17 Remember the Exodus
Recalls the God who “makes a way in the sea,” and who extinguished the chariot and horse, army and battalion, “like a wick.”
Exodus is a foundational story. The decisive act of God in bringing the people out of Israel is found in Exodus 14, and celebrated in Exodus 15.
Exodus 15:21 “Miriam sang the refrain back to them: ‘Sing to the Lord for an overflowing victory. Horse and rider he has thrown into the sea!” is among the oldest pieces of oral tradition in the Torah (Terence Fretheim, Interpretation: Exodus).
The sea is primordial chaos. God is the one who makes a way out of the sea.
Creating God - who formed order out of chaos - is same as Exodus God.
v 18-19 Forget the Exodus
“Second Isaiah declares that the second exodus will so far overshadow the first that the exodus from Egypt will be forgotten.” (Gowan, p. 154)
“It is fascinating that the prophet, having gone to so much effort to invoke the past, continues in verse 18 with the injunction: “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old!” The command is surprising and serves as an effective rhetorical device to get the people’s attention, for the prophet is not content to have the people wax nostalgic about the “good old days.”” (Callie Plunket-Brewton, Working Preacher)
“One may argue, of course, that v 18-19 do not constitute a denial of the exodus motif, but merely an extension of it… Yahweh’s saving grace so far outstrips human comprehension that only the language of negation is capable of describing it. To be sure, God’s grace is like what Yahweh did at the Red Sea, but it may also be said that it is not like the Red Sea incident, in that it far surpasses that moment in time.” (Newsome, p. 230)
v 20-21 A new thing
“A way through the desert,” is the new “Path through the sea.”
Once again, the people will walk on land that is prepared by God, and what is past will forever remain in the past.
The new thing is framed by the exodus, but even this amazing foundational act is not enough to describe what is happening.
Imagining the exodus is just the starter for the creative possibilities of what God is doing.
People are invited into the imaginative process with the knowledge that what has happened in the past is not enough to cover what will happen.
Second Isaiah is the original “think outside the box,” guy.
Thoughts and Questions
Water is the theme that this passage together. God uses the waters of chaos to create order. He uses water to bring the people from bondage to freedom. Uses water to make a desolate place a place of life. Water is the turning point from chaos to order, bondage to freedom, and death to life. This could be a good Sunday for baptism.
Language of the Warrior God can often be twisted into nationalistic, patriotic, fear-mongering. If the Pharaoh is understood as representative of evil, worldly power, it can be useful and adaptable. Pharaoh who was extinguished like a wick in exodus just as evil was extinguished with end of exile, and Emperor was extinguished with Resurrection. Make claim then today, that God can extinguish the evil power of this world. More than a little problematic however, if you insert a specific tribe, nation, or people into the role of Pharaoh.
Thanks to our Psalms correspondent, Richard Bruxvoort Colligan (psalmimmersion.com,@pomopsalmist). Thank you to Scott Fletcher for our voice bumpers, Dick Dale and the Del Tones for our Theme music (“Miserlou”), Nicolai Heidlas (“Sunday Morning”,"Real Ride"and“Summertime”) and Bryan Odeen for our closing music.