Costly Gift

18 Jun

Kathryn Hauser’s Reflection for Holy Monday of Passion Week 18 April 2011

Costly Gift

Kindness, mercy, gentleness, love, hospitality are all active qualities of God’s character, which flow through us when we are in a right relationship with God.  The “first covenant” (Heb 9:15) is God’s relationship and commitment with us.  We forgot about this primary relationship and so God sent Jesus to make things right.  He sacrificed His gentle Self (see Isaiah 42 below) for our brokenness.

All the characters in the Gospel story today were given gifts.  Jesus was the Passover Lamb, and his innocence was not passed over.  Lazarus was given the gift of New Life.  Martha was given the gift of serving.  Mary, her sister, had the gift of giving graciously and abundantly.  Judas probably had the gift of administration.  Administrators can see how people and things can come together and flow for optimum efficiency.  The crowd was given the gift of curiosity.  Curiosity must be present before learning can occur.  Arrogance thinks it knows it all, so there is nothing left to learn.  It must protect itself with what it knows.

Satan had this same problem.  (Really, I know that in some circles I’m treading on the hallowed ground of mythology, but really, it’s much easier to take all those negative qualities of his and personify them into one name: Satan.)  I remember reading somewhere (and now I cannot find the source) that Satan had started off as the most beautiful angel and then his head swelled.  Ok, park that thought and follow along…  I often hear, “How can you say God is good when He allows so much evil in the world?  If God made good and He made everything, then that means He made evil, too, but how can evil come from Good?”  That logic makes linear sense.  So does the phrase, “No good deed goes unpunished.”  It boils down to choice.  Satan made a choice to take his gift of beauty and use it to lie, steal, and deceive.  Lies, theft, and deception feed and morph upon themselves and become amplified.  God didn’t create these.  Lies are confounded and confronted by the Truth.  Theft wants what it is lacking.  Deception runs scared, frightened, and amok in its shame.  How sad.  It doesn’t have to be this way. 

Mary took a pound of costly perfumed ointment and wiped Jesus’ feet with it using her hair.  That ointment then had six days (ref John 12:1) to steep into Jesus’ skin and flesh, so that when the nails were driven into His feet when He was crucified, the perfumed sacrifice of His life would have touched the nose of everyone present.  The same perfumed ointment would have blessed and soothed His head when He was pierced with the crown of thorns.  Mary likely did not know why she was being led to share so generously from herself.  She just knew she had to.  Jesus answered her silent “why” question but not to her directly.  He answered her through Judas (and likely to those at the dinner party who were thinking the same thing as Judas, but Judas just put voice to it.)  The logic makes sense: the expensive perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor.  But herein lays the truth:  Not all situations can be solved with logic.  Human jealousies, insecurities, control (or lack of it), fears, and ego-pride can get in the way.  Have you ever considered the thought that Satan, himself, has serious self-esteem issues?  Lies, theft, and deception grow out of these self-esteem issues. 

“Leave her alone.  She bought it, so that she might keep it for the day of My burial.” (John 12:7)

We must respectfully leave each other alone.  The “sacrifice” of sharing our God-given gifts does become a burial.  The old ways, perspectives, and values, are buried and New Life bursts through the creative Spirit and springs forth out of dead wood.  This is true with spiritual issues and temporal issues.  “Leaving alone” is not the same thing as isolation.  Isolationism rots.  The gospel kind of ‘leaving alone’ is what the gardener does after planting and watering the seed.  The gardener doesn’t go back and dig up the seed to see if it’s growing.  This kind of ‘leaving alone’ waters the seed, gives it encouragement, and watches it flourish.  Meanwhile the seed dies to itself to produce fruit from its gift within its Self, from within its very DNA.

Now, possibly the saddest group in this Gospel story were the chief priests.  They knew the beauty of the Lord intimately through their role and their experiences, and they became jealous, because they wanted to hoard their relationship for themselves.  Meanwhile God’s children suffer.  The same thing is happening today.  Again—it does not have to be this way.  We each have a pure gift, our own ‘costly pound of perfumed nard’ (or whatever our gift is) to share with those around us.  The gift does not have to be expensive, loud, or amplified to be “heard.” But it will cost us everything.  The Old Testament Lesson from Isaiah 42:1-9 is not only about Jesus, but about all of us in Christ, while we are still living into Isaiah’s/ Jesus’ words:

Isaiah 42 (From The Message Bible)

God’s Servant Will Set Everything Right

 1-4 “Take a good look at my servant.
   I’m backing him to the hilt.
He’s the one I chose,
   and I couldn’t be more pleased with him.
I’ve bathed him with my Spirit, my life.
   He’ll set everything right among the nations.
He won’t call attention to what he does
   with loud speeches or gaudy parades.
He won’t brush aside the bruised and the hurt
   and he won’t disregard the small and insignificant,
   but he’ll steadily and firmly set things right.
He won’t tire out and quit. He won’t be stopped
   until he’s finished his work—to set things right on earth.
Far-flung ocean islands
   wait expectantly for his teaching.”

The God Who Makes Us Alive with His Own Life

 5-9God’s Message,
   the God who created the cosmos, stretched out the skies,
   laid out the earth and all that grows from it,
Who breathes life into earth’s people,
   makes them alive with his own life:
“I am God. I have called you to live right and well.
   I have taken responsibility for you, kept you safe.
I have set you among my people to bind them to me,
   and provided you as a lighthouse to the nations,
To make a start at bringing people into the open, into light:
   opening blind eyes,
   releasing prisoners from dungeons,
   emptying the dark prisons.
I am God. That’s my name.
   I don’t franchise my glory,
   don’t endorse the no-god idols.
Take note: The earlier predictions of judgment have been fulfilled.
   I’m announcing the new salvation work.
Before it bursts on the scene,
   I’m telling you all about it.”


Holy Monday                        18 April 2011                                                Gospel: John 12:1-11

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 42:1-9
42:1 Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.

42:2 He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street;

42:3 a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.

42:4 He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching.

42:5 Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it:

42:6 I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations,

42:7 to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.

42:8 I am the LORD, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols.

42:9 See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.

Psalm 36:5-11
36:5 Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.

36:6 Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your judgments are like the great deep; you save humans and animals alike, O LORD.

36:7 How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

36:8 They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.

36:9 For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.

36:10 O continue your steadfast love to those who know you, and your salvation to the upright of heart!

36:11 Do not let the foot of the arrogant tread on me, or the hand of the wicked drive me away.

New Testament Lesson: Hebrews 9:11-15
9:11 But when Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation),

9:12 he entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.

9:13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified,

9:14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God!

9:15 For this reason he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, because a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions under the first covenant.

Gospel Lesson: John 12:1-11
12:1 Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.

12:2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him.

12:3 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.

12:4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said,

12:5 “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?”

12:6 (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.)

12:7 Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.

12:8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

12:9 When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.

12:10 So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well,

12:11 since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.



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