"The LORD makes a way in the sea, a path in the might waters," we hear in Isaiah this morning.
Paul thought he knew the way, the law. He fulfilled every part of it, better than anyone, but he discovered he wasn’t really living. His life was going nowhere.
The Israelites thought they knew the way—serve the Egyptians obediently. Make bricks, stay put. It was all they knew. But they were not really living.
The Disciples thought they knew the way. They dropped their nets and followed Jesus at his first invitation. The followed him for three years before we get to today’s Gospel. They healed the sick, prayed with him, and witnessed his miracles. They passed out the bread he multiplied. But they were blind to God right in front of them. They were so busy arguing about who was his favorite and correcting Jesus for talking to the wrong people, they were missing the new life that was right in front of them.
Jesus gives us the gift of new life, through his abundant grace and forgiveness. Most of the time we’re like Judas and the other disciples, focused on the practical, being reasonable, weighing our actions and the actions of others, and trying to look good in front of other people. Judas is right! He’s right about the poor—that they could really use that money to ease their suffering. He’s right about the excessiveness of the gift. It was rather wasteful to pour out all that perfume.
But Jesus praises Mary, arguably the 13th Disciple. She is praised for her act of devotion, her expression of love and gratefulness. She was grateful that Jesus had raised her brother from the dead and restored him to her family. She was devoted to Jesus. Remember, she sat at his feet, learning from him, while her sister prepared all the food and served the guests. Here, she further expresses her devotion through this lavish gift.
I wonder: Would Jesus have praised her however she had expressed her devotion, thanks, and love? Would he have also praised her if she had sold the expensive perfume and given the money to the poor? Would he have also praised her if she had brought some other gift for him? I think he would have.
But she chose this way. What does this tell us? Mary chose a gift that involved the 5 senses, especially touch and smell. She touched Jesus’ body. Six days before his body would be beaten, pierced, pushed, she touched and anointed that body. She cared for that body. Six days before he will be dehumanized, humiliated, she honors him and although she is completely unaware, establishes herself as the priest, anointing the Christ, which means “anointed one.” She anoints the Christ for his ascension to the throne, to be lifted up on the cross. She also establishes herself as his teacher. Five nights before he will wash the disciples feet, he learns from her the gift of touch and intimacy, a beautiful act of farewell, and an apt illustration of how they are to treat each other.
So today, Jesus touches us. We put his body to our lips in Holy Communion, and we take his blood into our bodies. In holy communion we are close to one we trust so much and love so much, just like Mary.
We are taught to be reserved, as Lutherans. Don’t show emotion. Don’t embarrass yourself by making a scene. Mary is our role model today. She doesn’t hold back.
We know from this story not to discount our bodies or our emotions. Sometimes we associate them with “the flesh” from the Bible, distractions, temptations of our bodies. But here we see that bodies aren’t bad or to be neglected or denied. It is a matter of balance. Jesus was criticized for eating and drinking and partying a little more than people thought he should. But that’s not all he did. He had a balanced life that included celebration, prayer, and healing and teaching, his work. This story is telling us that our bodies are a gift from God and we can enjoy God’s good gifts in this world.
Mary’s gift was affirmed by Jesus because it was an expression of love. It was so appropriate because of what was about to happen to Jesus’ body. How many times that week did Jesus recall that time with Mary? How many times did he call on that memory for strength? How many times did the scent of the perfume come back into his awareness? How long did it linger? That was a lot of perfume. The smell of it might even have lasted to the cross.
Mary’s gift is also an illustration of what Christ does for us. He give us all he has in his healing and teaching, in the life he lives, in his death and resurrection and forgiveness, and by making us his brothers and sisters. Some say his outpouring was a waste. He wasted his blood, his life, on sinners, on rejects, on people who would never appreciate what he did.
But we respond in faith. We respond with joy. When we are down and out, hurting, feeling all alone, Jesus sits at our feet and washes them with his tears, begging us to come home, to change our life. He throws us a dinner, he pours out all his precious perfume, all his loveliness, all his grace. We respond by celebrating that gift, with praise, by placing our confidence in him and his love and grace.
Jesus gave all he had. Mary got that, and she went all out and gave all she had. However we respond, God’s free gift of grace is for us. It is for Mary. It is for Judas. It is for the clueless disciples. It is for you and me—distracted, ungrateful, blind, hopeful, sleepy, bumbling you and me. He poured himself out, but it wasn’t a waste because new life comes forth, restoration, forgiveness, a new way.
We thought we knew the way, money, a good job, respectability, good works, but it turns out that Christ is the way, love is the way, faith is the way. It is the way to the cross. We will go there, too. We will pour out all we have. We will die. We will be humiliated. We will suffer. The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years and no who departed Egypt crossed into the promised land. Saul stood blind in the hands of those who he’d oppressed and feared for his life. Mary wept 3 days at the tomb of her brother. They suffered. But that’s not the end of the story and it isn’t for us either. There’s more! That’s not the end of the story, because Jesus has wept over us and has bathed us in his baptismal tears, he’s fed us with himself and isn’t about to let us go now. So we rise to new life, with him. This new life is different than our former life. We have new focus, new eyes, new appreciation, and we rise to praise, to celebrate, and to truly live.