Sunday, April 7, 2019
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
What are your favorite smells – those aromas that invite feelings of comfort and joy? Those smells that bring you back to a moment in time when you were incredibly happy…. For me, I love the smell of lilacs, my favorite flower. As I press my face into the flowers and breathe deeply, I am transported back to my childhood – back to the backyard breathing in the aroma of the lilac bush that grew as tall as any tree I could remember. The yard was filled with the fragrance of their perfume. My mother has always loved lilies of the valley. Small tiny flowers shaped like a bell, but so small you would hardly think they would have any detectable sent at all, yet just one small stem with a few of these tiny flowers fills a room with a magnificent fragrance.
Flowers aren’t the only fragrances I love. I love the smell of coffee (even though I don’t like the taste.), the smell of cinnamon, and especially the smell of the ocean with its invigorating salty sea air. That is my favorite smell and it fills me with life! We all have our favorite fragrances – certain foods, or books, an outdoor farm, or a particular room in a house. Even those things that don’t necessarily smell particularly good, but that remind us of someone we love, like the smell of a particular liniment or cigar that may remind us of a particular relative or friend. Fragrances fill not only the room with their scent, but they fill our senses and flood our souls. They capture us and have a special kind of hold on us.
In John’s Gospel today everyone in the room that day was captured by such a fragrance. “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.” Mary, Martha, Lazarus, Jesus, Judas, perhaps another disciple or two…were all gathered together to enjoy a meal together before Jesus went to Jerusalem – before the Passover – and they were all caught up in the smell of the fragrance of the costly perfume that Mary used to anoint Jesus’ feet. A dinner had been prepared, but the aromas from that meal were not the ones that everyone smelled that day. No, the fragrance that took hold of them all was more powerful than the meal.
What kind of fragrance could overtake them all? What kind of fragrance was it that shocked all their senses? And I use the word shock because that’s what happened. They were all shocked by what Mary did – each and every one of them. Martha was shocked because it wasn’t proper for a good Jewish woman to let down her hair in public. Sure, Mary was in her home with her sister Martha and brother Lazarus, and Jesus was a close friend, but still….that was no way for a good Jewish woman to behave – so recklessly, so passionately, so emotional….Good heavens, right in the middle of dinner Mary just gets down on the floor and starts anointing Jesus feet with this expensive perfume and wiping them with her hair! If we were there what would we have thought? What would we have done? For Martha this fragrance smelled like embarrassment.
And there was Lazarus, reclining at the dinner table, hardly knowing what to say because he was just recently brought back to life. So many people have questions of what it’s like on the other side and here sat Lazarus with that knowledge. What thoughts must have raced through his mind! Lazarus was dead for three days. His body had already started to change. Yet Jesus, his dear friend, who wept at his grave, raised him from the dead. Jesus brought Lazarus back to life. And now the odor of the tomb that once filled Lazarus’ nostrils was now replaced with the odor of expensive perfume. It filled the room. It was the fragrance of life.
Yet that’s not what is smelled like to Judas. Judas smelled the fragrance of money being wasted. That expensive perfume was worth at least a year’s wages. Why on earth was Mary wasting it on Jesus when the money from selling it could have been used to help the poor? Was that really what was troubling Judas? Did he really think about using that money to help the poor or did he want to pocket some of that money for himself? Why did this act of Mary trouble Judas so much? Perhaps it was because Mary was getting so close, so intimate with Jesus while Judas’ relationship with Jesus was growing further and further apart. Maybe Judas really wanted to be close to Jesus, but just didn’t know how anymore. We don’t know, but we do know that Judas protested because for Judas, money not love was the bottom line. He was disgusted by this outrageous act of Mary. For Judas, the room was filled with the fragrance of resentment.
Meanwhile Mary kept pouring out this oil over Jesus and the room continued to fill with the fragrance of it. We don’t know where Mary got this expensive oil from. Did she have enough money to purchase this? Or was it handed down from her family, to one day be used as part of her dowry when she got married? If that was the case, she was throwing away her future by spending it all on this oil for Jesus, because without a dowry she would have no prospects of marriage. She would be alone. Yet none of this mattered to Mary. Jesus had raised her brother Lazarus from the dead! Mary was overcome with gratitude beyond words. Jesus deserved something extravagant. It didn’t matter what the cost. Nothing was more priceless than Jesus. Mary could only smell the sweet fragrance of gratitude for all that had been done for her and her family.
People all over town and into the surrounding towns were talking about it. Jesus had done a great miracle in raising Lazarus from the dead. Jesus heard the talk. He heard the quiet whispering of the plots to get rid of him. Jesus knew His life was on borrowed time now. It was six days before the Passover and that meant that the time was almost here for Him to carry out the plan that His Father willed. Soon it would be time for Jesus to suffer and die. That’s why He was there, to spend one last meal with His friends before the final journey to Jerusalem, to His death. And Jesus was shocked by Mary’s actions- graciously shocked. Mary was anointing His feet with this expensive perfume and preparing Him for His burial, whether she fully understood it or not. Because after He was buried three days it would be too late for her to anoint Him with this ritual. It would be too late, because three days after His burial He would be raised. Mary probably didn’t fully understand this, yet it didn’t matter. Mary was passionate about her worship and love of Jesus, as passionate as Jesus Himself was about His love for all of God’s people. For Jesus, the fragrance from this act of loving service was the fragrance of love that gave him the confidence to do what he had to do. He needed that fragrance to carry him forward all the way to the cross, and back to life again.
That’s extravagant love. Like the extravagant love we heard about last week in the story of the Prodigal Son or the Prodigal Father. That’s what this story is all about. It’s about how we as disciples are called to live lives of extravagant love and gratitude. It’s about giving extravagantly – like Mary-of our time, love, and worship to God. It’s about giving extravagantly of our gifts like Mary gave of her money – maybe the last bit she had to live on – in caring for someone else. It’s about doing the right thing no matter what someone else thinks – like Mary who was vulnerable in showing Jesus just how much he meant to her.
We are called to get involved and care for each other and those around us with the love of Christ. It means pouring out on each other an abundance of respect and integrity. It means pouring out an abundance of forgiveness and compassion. It means pouring out an abundance of mercy and justice. It means falling down on our knees like Mary, and not caring what anyone thinks about what we are doing, and being humble before God. We, like Mary, preach the gospel most generously through our actions, our actions of love and peace.
We have all been anointed – anointed by God in baptism. The fragrance of our baptism permeates our entire lives and all those we encounter. Like Mary, we have been touched by Christ and are no longer the same. No one who encounters Jesus is the same. Maybe we feel more like Judas, and we are envious of others, yet he too, was anointed. God’s love and forgiveness was available even to Judas, only he couldn’t accept that. Maybe he thought he was too far gone. Maybe he thought he was too rotten for the fragrance of God’s love to penetrate. Jesus says that there is no one too far gone for God’s love to penetrate. Smell the sweet fragrance of God’s love and be reborn. Let it fill your life and spill out to all those you encounter. Amen.