(John 12: 1-8)
As many times as I’ve read this passage, I’ve always wondered why nobody at the table asked the follow-up question: Why won’t we always have you? Where are you going? What’s the plan? There’s a lot going on at this dinner party. They’re at the home of Lazarus, whom Jesus had just raised from the dead. That surely should have sparked some searching questions and meaningful conversation. They know the Pharisees are outside plotting a way to get rid of Jesus and stop this movement in its tracks. You know, cut off the head and the body dies. But Jesus, some of his disciples, Martha, Mary and Lazarus are sitting around sharing a meal before Jesus departs from Bethany to Jerusalem. We’re told it’s the week before Passover, so we know Jerusalem will be crowded with Jews who have come from all over for the celebrations and festival. A perfect opportunity to have an in-depth conversation with Jesus regarding what is about to happen and why. We are told that Mary took a pound of costly perfume made out of pure nard and anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair, and that the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. Pure nard was a fragrant ointment imported from the mountains of India. It was very expensive and the amount Mary used was worth a year’s wages. This was quite an act and Mary must have had the feeling something serious was about to happen. She, apparently, was putting the pieces together. Judas Iscariot, one of the disciples objected and said, “Why was this perfume not sold for 300 denarii and the money given to the poor?” Judas didn’t care about the poor. He was concerned because it was cutting into what he was skimming off the top as he was in charge of the finances for this mission trip. Jesus could have outed Judas right there, but he kept quiet about it and told him to leave Mary alone explaining that she had bought it so that she might keep it for the day of his burial. He then said, You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.
You would have thought that at that moment someone would have spoken up and asked Jesus what he meant when he said they would not always have him. You would have thought that one of the disciples, such as the outspoken Peter, would have asked Jesus to explain what he was talking about as this was not the first veiled comment that Jesus had made about not being around for much longer or going to a place they could not yet go. Jesus could have told them what lay ahead, that they would go into Jerusalem and be well received but then things would take a turn for the worse. He would be betrayed, put on trial, found guilty and put to death. He could have explained the resurrection and the new beginnings, the New Covenant. But, I guess, he knew his followers and knew it was a conversation they would not be able to comprehend or get their heads around. Afterall, he was the Messiah, the Son of God. It didn’t have to be that way. They wouldn’t understand it would have to be that way, so others would get it, others, like us.
The Apostle Paul got it. He understood the resurrection. But, like us, he wouldn’t have gotten it unless Jesus went through the pain and humiliation of the crucifixion. Paul tries to put it in perspective for us when he writes his letter to the church in Philippi. He explains to the Philippians the power of Christ’s resurrection. And, I think I’m beginning to understand it better myself. I understand it better because of all the subsequent books in the New Testament written by Paul and others explaining and putting into perspective what Jesus was trying to teach us. They are charged with writing these letters to other congregations, and to us, so we can study them and reflect upon what it means to be a Follower of the Way, applying the lessons to our daily lives. I am slowly nearing the end of my study of the New Testament and, with they help of these writings, I am getting a better understanding of what Christ was trying to accomplish and I feel a deepening of my faith. I’m getting it.
Paul starts out by saying; If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. Paul was a Jew’s Jew. His credentials were impeccable. But he says that regardless of who he is or what he has, they are nothing because of Christ. He says; More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. All of this, he says, amounts to nothing when it comes to having a relationship with Jesus Christ. He’s saying that his human achievements, no matter how impressive, cannot earn him salvation and an eternal life with God. His conversion to faith in Christ wasn’t based on what he had done, but on God’s grace, and salvation comes only through faith in Christ. For his sake, Paul goes on to say, I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. When Paul experienced his conversion on the way to Damascus, he was a changed man. He gave up everything and he says, “You know what? It was no great loss when you compare it to what I have gained by having a relationship with Jesus Christ.” “I just thought I was righteous, I thought my righteousness came from being the perfect Jew, but I was wrong, it comes through my faith in Jesus Christ.” Paul continues by saying; I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Paul is telling us that we are united with Christ by trusting in him, which enables us to experience the power that raised him from the dead. Paul knew that he might die soon, but he had faith that he would be raised to life again. That same mighty power will help us live morally renewed and regenerated lives, a new beginning. But before we can walk in the newness of life, before we can experience this new beginning, we must also die to sin. Just as the resurrection gives us Christ’s power to live for him, his crucifixion marks the death of our old sinful nature. We can’t know the victory of the resurrection without personally applying the crucifixion.
Paul says that his goal is to know Christ, to be like Christ, and to be all Christ has in mind for him, and that this goal will take all of his energy as he says he presses on to make it his own, because Christ Jesus made him his own. Paul says; Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead. I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. Paul had reason to forget what was behind—he had held the coats of those who had stoned Stephen, the first Christian martyr. He wants to make it right with his new beginning, straining forward to live a Christ-like life.
Like Paul, we’ve all done things for which we are ashamed, and we live in the tension of what we have been and what we want to be. Because our hope is in Christ, however, we can let go of past guilt and look forward to what God will help us become. Don’t dwell on your past. Instead, grow in the knowledge of God by concentrating on your relationship with him now. Realize that you are forgiven, and then move on to a life of new beginnings of faith and obedience, looking forward to a fuller and more meaningful life because of your hope in Jesus Christ.
Please pray with me.
This is a day of new beginnings, time to remember and move on, time to believe what love is bringing, laying to rest the pain that’s gone. Gracious and loving Father, through the life and death of your Son, we are born anew with a faith and hope of the great and wonderful things to come as we live our lives as you would have us live. With your gift of the Holy Spirit we can move away from our past leaving behind our disappointments, our guilt and our grieving and seek the new path to a better life we are sure to find. With Christ going on before us to show us and share with us what love can do, we rejoice in our new beginnings knowing that you are making all things new. In Jesus name, we pray, Amen.