Priceless Anointing

Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
March 17, 2013 – Lent V

Isaiah 43:16-21, Psalm 126, Philippians 3:4b-14, John 12:1-8

From the book of the prophet Isaiah:
The wild beasts will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise.

From St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians:
Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but 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 upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

And from the Gospel of St. John:
Mary took a pound of costly ointment of pure nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment.

Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.

As I am sure you all know, the Roman Catholic Church has a new Pope: Pope Franciscus. On Wednesday, March 13th, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected Pope, and he succeeds Pope Benedict XVI, who resigned on February 28th. As such, he is both head of the Catholic Church and Sovereign of the Vatican City State.

A native of Buenos Aires, Argentina, he was ordained as a priest in 1969. In 1998 he became the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, and in 2001 a cardinal. He chose the papal name Franciscus in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi, the 13th century much-loved saint who is associated with peace, poverty and simplicity. He is the first Jesuit pope, the first from the Americas, and the first from the Southern Hemisphere. Francis is the first non-European pope in 1,282 years.

When he was Cardinal, he became known for personal humility, doctrinal conservatism and a commitment to social justice. A simple lifestyle contributed to his reputation for humility. He lived in a small apartment, rather than in the palatial bishop’s residence. He gave up his chauffeured limousine in favor of public transportation and cooked his own meals.
The pope and all of the cardinals in attendance wore light yellow robes over their cassocks as he appeared on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica just after a church official announced “Habemus Papum” – “We have a pope.” The new pope spoke to a crowd of some 100,000 people packed in rain-soaked St. Peter’s Square just after his election and anointing as pope.

He said, “Ladies and Gentlemen, good evening. He then humbled himself and asked everyone to bow their heads as he asked for prayers for himself, and for retired Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, whose resignation paved the way for the conclave that brought the first Jesuit to the papacy. Before he blessed the crowd, he wanted their prayers for him as he bowed his head and accepted their blessings for their new pope.

Our Gospel reading this morning has Jesus and His disciples returning to Bethany for some needed rest with His dear friends: Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Our Lord knew that the Jewish leaders were out to arrest Him and kill Him (John 11:53), but He still returned to Bethany, only two miles from the very citadel of His enemies. True to His friends’ personalities, Martha busily served them food and Mary worshiped at the feet of Jesus.

The account of Mary’s anointing of her Lord is found also in the book of Matthew, chapter 26 and Mark, chapter 14. But it must not be confused with the account given in Luke 7:36-50, where a former harlot anointed Jesus in the house of Simon the Pharisee. Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus was a virtuous woman, and she anointed Jesus in the house of Simon the former leper.

When you combine all three accounts, you learn that Mary anointed both Jesus’ head and feet. It was an act of pure love on her part, for she knew her Lord was about to endure suffering and death. Because she sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to Him speak, she knew what He was going to do. It is significant that Mary of Bethany was not one of the women that went to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus (Mark 16:1); for she had already anointed the body.

In a sense, Mary was showing her devotion to Jesus before it was too late. She was “giving the flowers” while He was still alive, and not bringing them to the funeral! Her act of love and worship was public, spontaneous, sacrificial, lavish, personal, and unembarrassed. Jesus called it “a good work” and commended her and defended her.

It would require a year’s wages from a common laborer to purchase that ointment. Like David, Mary would not give to the Lord that which cost her nothing (2 Sam. 24:24). Her beautiful act of worship brought a fragrance to the very house in which they were dining, and the blessing of her deed has spread around the world (Matt. 26:13; Mark 14:9). Little did Mary realize that night that her love for Christ would be a blessing to believers around the world for centuries to come!

When she came to the feet of Jesus, Mary took the place of a slave or servant. When she undid her hair (something Jewish women did not do in public), she humbled herself and laid her glory at His feet. Of course, she was misunderstood and criticized; but that is what usually happens when somebody gives his or her best to the Lord.

It was Judas who started the criticism, and, sad to say, the other disciples joined in the chorus in ridiculing her. They did not know that Judas was a devil, and they admired him for his seeming concern for the poor. After all, he was the treasurer; and especially at Passover season, he would want to share with those who were less fortunate. Until the very end, the disciples believed that Judas was a devoted follower of the Lord.

We know from the Holy Scriptures that Judas was a thief and was in the habit of stealing money from the money box that he carried. No doubt Judas had already decided to abandon Jesus, and he wanted to get what he could out of what he considered a bad situation. Perhaps he had hoped that Jesus would defeat Rome and set up the kingdom.

What Mary did was a blessing to Jesus and a blessing to her own life. She was also a blessing to the home, filling it with fragrance; and today, she is a blessing to the church around the world. Her one act of devotion in the little village of Bethany still sends “ripples of blessings,” “chills up the spine,” “tears of joy.”

As we look at this event, we see some “representative people” who are examples to us. Martha represents work as she served the dinner she had prepared for the Lord. This was just as much a “fragrant offering” as was Mary’s ointment. Mary represents worship, and Lazarus represents witness, for people went to Bethany just to see the man who was raised from the dead! Actually, the Christian life ought to be a beautiful balance of worship, work, and witness.

Pope Francis is surely one of the “representative people.” On Tuesday, he will officially be installed as pope, on the feast of St. Joseph, patron saint of the universal church. According to Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, Jesuits typically shun positions of authority, so Francis must have felt it “a strong call to service” (work). First thing the next morning, he entered the St. Mary Major basilica through a side entrance for prayer (worship). He has been elected head of the 1.2 billion strong Catholic Church and will lead them in witnessing (witness) to the resurrection of and saving grace of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

St. Paul was another of the “representative people.” When Paul met Jesus Christ on the Damascus road (Acts 9), he trusted Him and became a child of God. It was an instantaneous bright light from heaven, a miracle of the grace of God; the kind that still takes place today whenever sinners will admit their need and turn to the Saviour by faith. When Paul met Christ, he realized how futile were his good works and how sinful were his claims of righteousness. A wonderful “anointing” took place. Paul lost some things, but he gained so much more!

When Paul became a Christian, it was not the end for Paul, but the beginning. His experience with Christ was so tremendous that it transformed his life. And this experience continued in the years to follow. It was a personal experience as Paul walked with Christ, prayed, obeyed His will, and sought to glorify His name.

Jesus enjoyed a quiet evening of fellowship with His friends in Bethany. This must have brought special encouragement and strength to the Savior’s heart as he faced the demands of that last week before the Cross. As He enjoyed the evening of delicious food and fellowship, He probably looked around the room at His dear friends: Mary, Martha, Lazarus and His twelve disciples; He was probably thinking: if they only knew what was going happen in the next few days. He told them, but they did not understand.

As Christians, we have been “anointed” by the priceless sacrifice of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. He suffered on the cross for our redemption; He was crucified for the remission of our sins; He died and was buried; the third day He conquered death and rose from the dead; Who by His suffering and death became the author of eternal salvation for all who put their trust in Him.

I would encourage you to spend some time in prayer for the remaining days of Lent; and meditate on God’s Word and all that He has done for us through His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners; Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.


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