United Church of Jaffrey
April 7th, 2019
A Good Question
One day, while Jesus was resting at the end of the day, a woman named Mary anointed his feet with perfume.
Apparently, this perfume was quite precious, because no sooner did Mary apply it, then someone made a comment about it:
“Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?”
It’s a good question.
I don’t really know how far 300 denarii would go back in Judea in the 1st century, but on the surface at least, the suggestion seems to be a decent one.
No doubt there are poor people close at hand – maybe Jesus and the 12 have been walking among them all day – who could benefit from such a sum of money.
But there’s a problem.
And I perceive, at this moment, that this problem not only affects Jesus, but also stretches across the centuries and even touches us, here in this place.
You see, the person who raises the perfume objection is none other than Judas Iscariot himself – the man whose name we have come to associate with villainy and betrayal.
And just in case we have forgotten exactly who Judas Iscariot is, the writer of John’s gospel bookends the objection with little reminders…
Before Judas speaks, the text reminds us the speaker is “one who was about to betray Jesus…”
And after Judas makes his objection, the gospel writer sticks the knife in one more time. Judas, the text reports, 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.”
It’s a little awkward really, isn’t it?
It seems almost like the gospel writer is jumping over himself to cast doubt on Judas’ motives.
It seems like the gospel writer is sneaking in little mean hearted comments just to make sure that we don’t mistake Judas’ remark for the remark of a caring person.
Because, on the surface of it, it does seem like the objection of a caring person.
The perfume does seem like an extravagance that could’ve been sold to help the poor.
And what does Jesus say to this?
Does he say, “You’re right, Judas, let’s set aside the rest of the perfume and sell it”?
Jesus says: “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
This morning, we are going to welcome three new members to our church.
Jessica Mahoney, Kerri McCormack, and Crystle O’Niel.
So, what, you may be wondering, am I doing going on about this perfume controversy?
It is, I agree, a rather peculiar passage to use to welcome new members.
I’d be better off using the other passage that was read this morning – the one from Hebrews chapter 10, that says:
…Let us approach the house of God with a true heart in full assurance of faith… And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another…
Well, allow me to conclude my sermon with the suggestion that if you look at the perfume controversy in a certain way, the story helps us to do exactly what Hebrews 10 asks us to do – the story helps us “approach the house of God with a true heart in full assurance of faith…”
The crucial insight that turns this story around, is that it is not a “either/or” story.
And this is Judas’ mistake.
Judas thinks that we should either worship God, or serve humanity.
In essence, he suggests that worshiping God, is getting in the way of serving humanity.
And when Jesus says “Leave her alone” he makes the story a both/and story.
Worship God, and serve humanity.
Or, perhaps Worship God, by serving humanity – that, after all, is what they had been doing all day, wandering through Galilee, teaching, feeding, and curing the poor.
And so, Jess,
This perfume Controversy…
This both/and story, Kerri…
This worship and serve idea, Crystle…
Doesn’t it end up being another way of showing us all how to live out the mission of the United Church of Jaffrey…
To Grow in our Christian Faith through Acts of love toward all!