The Least, First

Monte Asbury's blog

Jesus disses pretense (readings for Sunday, March 25)

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TiepoloA woman named Mary bursts in on dinner in an ultra-religious house where Jesus is guest. She brings an extravagant display of affection for Jesus – risky business in the segregated world of 1st century Judea! Judas Iscariot himself seizes the moment to express outrage disguised as concern.

[at left, a portrayal of a similar scene: Christ at Supper with Simon the Pharisee with the Anointment of Feet by Mary Magdalen by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo, ca. 1785, from the Getty Museum]

Which of the two – Mary or Judas – would have been met with approval from the religious elite? Easy: Brother Judas was lookin’ good. Mary, however – she’s way out of line.

Once again, Jesus and religion diverge. The one who looks good draws Jesus’ rebuke. The female (among male heavies in a male-heavy culture) attracts Jesus’ praise. Small wonder they despise him.

Paul follows up, in the subsequent reading, by heaping disdain on his own religious credentials. How do these scenes relate to issues of our day?  Read on …

Fifth Sunday in Lent, March 25, 2007
Isaiah 43:16-21 Psalm 126 Philippians 3:4b-14 John 12:1-8

John 12:1-8
Anointing His Feet
Six days before Passover, Jesus entered Bethany where Lazarus, so recently raised from the dead, was living. Lazarus and his sisters invited Jesus to dinner at their home. Martha served. Lazarus was one of those sitting at the table with them. Mary came in with a jar of very expensive aromatic oils, anointed and massaged Jesus’ feet, and then wiped them with her hair. …The fragrance of the oils filled the house.

Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples, even then getting ready to betray him, said, “Why wasn’t this oil sold and the money given to the poor? It would have easily brought three hundred silver pieces.” He said this not because he cared two cents about the poor but because he was a thief. He was in charge of their common funds, but also embezzled them.

Jesus said, “Let her alone. She’s anticipating and honoring the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you. You don’t always have me.”

Philippians 3:4b-14
We couldn’t carry this off by our own efforts, and we know it—even though we can list what many might think are impressive credentials. You know my pedigree: a legitimate birth, circumcised on the eighth day; an Israelite from the elite tribe of Benjamin; a strict and devout adherent to God’s law; a fiery defender of the purity of my religion, even to the point of persecuting the church; a meticulous observer of everything set down in God’s law Book.

The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God’s righteousness.

I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself. If there was any way to get in on the resurrection from the dead, I wanted to do it.

Focused on the Goal
I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.

Isaiah 43:16-21
This is what God says,
the God who builds a road right through the ocean,
who carves a path through pounding waves,
The God who summons horses and chariots and armies—
they lie down and then can’t get up;
they’re snuffed out like so many candles:
“Forget about what’s happened;
don’t keep going over old history.
Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new.
It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?
There it is! I’m making a road through the desert,
rivers in the badlands.
Wild animals will say ‘Thank you!’
—the coyotes and the buzzards—
Because I provided water in the desert,
rivers through the sun-baked earth,
Drinking water for the people I chose,
the people I made especially for myself,
a people custom-made to praise me.

Psalm 126
A Pilgrim Song
It seemed like a dream, too good to be true, when God returned Zion’s exiles.
We laughed, we sang,
we couldn’t believe our good fortune.
We were the talk of the nations—
“God was wonderful to them!”
God was wonderful to us;
we are one happy people.

And now, God, do it again—
bring rains to our drought-stricken lives
So those who planted their crops in despair
will shout hurrahs at the harvest,
So those who went off with heavy hearts
will come home laughing, with armloads of blessing.

All Bible passages quoted here are from The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson


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Written by Monte

March 19, 2007 at 3:32 pm

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