Last Sunday I heard a great sermon. I thought of all kinds of folks who would benefit from that sermon. Since my husband is the preacher and the sermons are recorded, it’s even possible for me to make sure all those folks I thought of during that sermon get a copy. I can even email the link – no postage required! Technology is awesome, isn’t it? It’s a great tool for sending light to penetrate the darkness.
I’m glad the truth preached from our pulpit can enter the day-to-day experience of folks in other parts of the world, but sometimes I wonder if it enters my world. Sometimes I wonder if the words preached in my hearing penetrate my heart.
I know I’m not alone in this. There is at least one Bible story that points to this common experience.
And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”
Now I know you may be wondering how this passage relates, but bear with me a minute!
Let’s look at this scene more closely.
Jesus is visiting with some folks in the house of a friend. Probably a marginalized friend, since he was know by his ailment. A woman comes in and effectively pours $47,000 worth of perfume on Jesus’ head. The folks sitting around are indignant. They’re thinking their cultural equivalent of, “Wha…?!?! I could’ve sold that on eBay for $47,000! Think how many bottles of clean water that would’ve bought for the Sudanese refugees!”
And yet Jesus rebukes them.
Now it’s our turn to say, “Wha…?!?!”
The thing is, the folks scolding this woman were not comparing her actions to Christ – who lived a life of sacrifice – but to themselves. And it is for that thought Jesus rebukes them. He reminds them they will always have the poor among them and they (they, as in those folks sitting right there) could do good to the poor any time they wanted.
But they didn’t want to.
They wanted this woman to.
Jesus takes a moment here to remind them to look to their own actions before he vindicates hers.
It’s as if he says something like, “Sure, she could have sold the flask and given the money to the poor – there are poor folks all around. But you there – you sitting there condemning her actions – what are you doing with your money? You can do good to the poor any time you want. But do you? You are neither giving to the poor nor sacrificing an astronomical amount for the kingdom.”
Which is where this experience intersects with my sermon experience.
Words of scripture rightly preached are an invaluable resource. But what do I do with that resource?
Do I invest the teaching God has given me in kingdom work by shining light on the sinful places in my own heart? Or do I deflect his prompting and judge other people’s actions by the truths I hear? Do I evaluate myself in the light of the active sacrifice of Christ, or do I evaluate others in light of my actions?
When we hear preaching and teaching in various contexts, God is always asking the question. “What are you doing with your heart? How does this change what you know about Me and you? How does this change you?”
There’s one other aspect to this story I think we should consider. Jesus honored this woman by promising that wherever the gospel was preached, her action would be retold. She is remembered.
But so are those who were sitting there.
This woman is remembered for her sacrifice. For her love for Jesus and the kingdom. For her love. (Indeed, we are called to love one another as Christ loved us – and to be known for such love!)
Those who were indignant are remembered for their indignance. For their hard heartedness. For their condemnation and judgement and apathy.
How will you be remembered?
This post builds on the theme we’re talking about today over at Redeeming Easter: A Resurrection Day Study. If you’d like to join us you can subscribe to that Bible study with daily devotions here: http://eepurl.com/bPCVqn.
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