"7.I am participating in a community of followers of Jesus on mission to the world."
Sevenfold Way of Following Jesus, Part 5
March 28, 2010 John 12:1-8; Php 2:1-11
A PRICELESS GIFT - MISPLACED? (WHY THE FEET?)
Let's say you owed your life to someone, they'd rescued you from a life-threatening situation, and you wanted to express deep appreciation to them. You went out and spent the equivalent of a whole year's wages on a shiny new top-of-the-line vehicle loaded with all the bells and whistles and latest environmentally-friendly technology. I mean, you spared no cost on this baby, as it's supposed to express huge thanks for all this person had done for you. After laying out so much in buying it - so much that your friends and neighbours wondered if you were a bit crazy - after investing so much in it, would you not give a certain amount of thought as to how to present it? What would make for the best presentation? Set up a barbeque-buffet at their place, invite the whole community, then at the right time have a local celebrity arrive driving it with a big bow on top? Or maybe sneak it into their garage beforehand, and with a trumpet fanfare at just the right moment open the garage door and, voila?
Q: Can you recall a time when you presented a gift in a creative way? How was it received?
That's what's so puzzling about how Mary anointed Jesus with her gift of perfume. Certainly the rest of the setting was entirely appropriate. The three siblings, Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus, had laid on a special appreciation banquet for Jesus. After all, not so long before, Lazarus was the one who'd fallen terminally ill and died. Lazarus, whom the sisters described in their urgent message to Jesus as "the one You love" (Jn 11:3). Lazarus, who had been dead and decomposing four days in the tomb while the sisters mourned deeply. Lazarus, who had come hobbling and hopping forth from the tomb, bound hand and foot in white graveclothes, after Jesus prayed and called in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" What a miracle that had been!
Not that the chief priests and Pharisees had been impressed. When they saw how this mass movement of the population beginning to believe in Jesus, they met and in the prophetic words of Caiaphas their leader decided it was better "that one man die for the people" (11:50). "So from that day on they plotted to take His life." (11:53) The miraculous act that meant renewed life for Lazarus was to prove the last straw that spelled death for Jesus. In fact, the authorities had given orders that if anyone knew where Jesus was, they were to report it so the leaders could arrest Him. He was officially an outlaw.
Q: Have you ever been jealous of another's popularity? Does realizing you're valued by Jesus help with that?
Not that any of that was dampening the celebration at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus that day. Give them credit - they must've had lots of pluck, openly hosting an appreciation dinner for an outlaw! Maybe they just covered up the 'wanted' posters with their invitation posters... There they were, in the broad daylight, each doing their specialty: Martha serving up a storm, she was right in her element. Lazarus lounged at Jesus' side, acting as host and keeping their special guest looked after and entertained (though that wouldn't be hard as Jesus drew His own audience). Mary probably quietly sat at Jesus' feet listening for a while, as she had done on Jesus' previous visits (Lk 10:38-42). But suddenly, between courses when there was a pause in the flow of conversation, she popped up and brought out this half-litre bottle of pricey perfume, pure nard. This stuff was so expensive it would have been worthy a year's wages for an average worker, easy. Would she pour a bit on Jesus' head, where people customarily were anointed?
No, as guests stared and onlookers gasped, she uncorked the priceless treasure and promptly emptied the whole bottle on Jesus' feet! All that perfume, rushing down Jesus' skin, pouring over and down into the cracks in the floorboards - while a little 'whiff' of good perfume fills a room with fragrance, this excessive outpouring caused a rush of aroma that was almost an assault of the most exquisite scent.
"Really, Mary," some must have been thinking, "was that really necessary? Why didn't you just put on a usual amount and save the rest? Why such excess? And - WHY THE FEET??"
Q: Had you been present when Mary acted, how might you have reacted?
The treasurer of Jesus' little band went even further. "What a waste!" Judas thought. Then he spoke aloud, "Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year's wages." I'm sure some of the onlookers agreed with Judas' point. Good old stewardship-minded socially-conscious Judas, they supposed. Good job the erratic itinerant preacher has such a dependable, cautious treasurer, they may have thought. Little did they know Judas not infrequently dipped his hand into the bag when he thought others weren't looking and helped himself to the communal savings. 'Good old socially-conscious Judas' my foot! He just wanted more reserve from which to pilfer. He didn't care about giving to the poor: Judas just wanted to give to HIMSELF. And as time went on, he cared even less about maintaining this heavenly-minded rabbi who seemed oblivious to the potential His movement had to overthrow the Roman overlords. Jesus was bent on a different track than where Iscariot's sentiments ran.
I can sympathize with Judas in that regard. I hate waste. Don't throw out the toothpaste tube until the last bit has been squeezed out. Do we really have to recycle the plastic cups from youth group rather than washing and reusing them next week? It gives me private pride to see how few garbage bags I put out compared to the neighbours - or rather, how many weeks I can go WITHOUT having to put out a garbage bag at all. It's all about stewardship of limited resources, right?
Emily has been co-authoring a book aimed at helping family members understand and help anorexics. By way of research, she contacted a Christian counsellor who had been very helpful to our own family when we were going through it back in the late 80's. He recalls wondering if, for one thing, my 'aestheticism' was a factor. Considering my 'aesthetic' sense is about nil, we decided he must mean 'asceticism'! The dictionary defines an 'ascetic' as "a person who practices severe self-discipline and abstains from all forms of pleasure, esp.for religious or spiritual reasons." True, we had gotten by on a student's wage, then one starting-out pastor's income, then half an income, for many years - even though that meant milk powder to drink, homemade granola for breakfast, and 'Saturday stew' from leftovers at the end of the week. But that wasn't asceticism, was it? Not compared to 3rd-world standards of living. Weren't we just trying to be good stewards? As I talked about this with my family at the supper table this week, protesting I wasn't really an 'ascetic', without thinking I reached over and picked up an empty milk bag to drain the last few drops into my cup. I'm afraid I was entirely unconvincing.
Q: Do you find you can be 'wasteful'/lavish for the right reasons?
So part of me is onboard with Judas on this one. What a waste! Couldn't that treasure have been better spent than poured out so lavishly? But Jesus pauses from inhaling the delicious fragrance, jumps in and defends Mary's actions as entirely appropriate. Which is made even more surprising by the fact that she's now undone her waist-length hair and is lovingly using it to wipe Jesus' feet. Scandalous! What self-respecting middle-class Jewish woman would ever do such a thing in front of guests, and to a man who wasn't even her husband? She's really gone overboard this time!
But what does Jesus say? "Leave her alone...[It was intended] that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me." (Joh 12:7f) Anointing for His burial? What's He talking about? And doesn't that smack of egocentrism, downright selfishness, to imply He's more important than helping the poor?
No; not in context. By raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus signed His own death warrant. It was, as John points out, "6 days before the Passover" - Friday night; before sundown the next Friday, Jesus would be dead and buried. He must have been extremely conscious of His upcoming departure. Time was short. Mary did exactly the right thing at the right time: she wasn't just expressing appreciation for saving the life of her brother; she was honouring Jesus for the wonder of Himself, God become man, the beauty of His wisdom and teaching, saying 'thank you' for all the thousands of other miracles He'd performed during His short ministry - and whether she comprehended it fully or not, she was honouring Him for His burial by which He'd deal with the sin and guilt of billions of people whom He'd die for to take to heaven.
LOWLINESS OF MIND AS JESUS LOWERED HIMSELF
But, why the feet?! If she really wanted to honour Him, why not just pour the extravagant gift on His head, as kings were anointed in the Old Testament?
Mary humbled herself. She honoured Jesus even more by lowering herself, not presuming to be considered suited to anoint Him on the head. By abasing herself, she exalted Him further.
Plus, fast forward to Thursday. It's the Last Supper, Jesus' final meal with His disciples, their Passover ceremonial meal together. What action did Jesus choose to 'show them the full extent of His love', as John puts it (13:1)? He took off His outer garments, took a basin and towel, and washed His disciples' feet. There had been no servants to do it; the proud, position-conscious disciples wouldn't think of stooping to do it for each other. So Jesus did it. He - the Master - lowered Himself to serve them. And He made a major point of it, saying, "I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you...Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them." (Joh 13:15,17) It's in doing the surprising, selfless, wasteful, lavish thing - serving our brother or sister in love - that we find real blessing.
Q: Can you think of a time someone performed a humble task for you that you really appreciated?
Mary 'got it'. Her gift and her action are totally appropriate because they point to the costliness, the value, and the significance of what our Saviour did in giving His life for us. She may have used perfume instead of water to wash His feet, and her hair instead of a towel to dry them, but she was accomplishing the same objective - honouring Him by serving His needs in a humble way.
Paul similarly 'goes for the feet' in his letter to the Philippians. It is only out of gratitude and appreciation for what Jesus has done for us that we can even begin to stop being selfish and greedy like Judas and instead love other Christians selflessly, lavishly. In chapter 2, verse 1 is key to the rest of the passage: note the 'if/then' structure v1 sets up: "If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love..." etc, etc - on up to v5, having the same attitude as Jesus. What is it that will enable us to (v3) 'do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit', v4 'not look only to your own interests', and such? That little phrase in v1, "being united with Christ". Only as we're one with Him can we become unselfish, empowered to 'waste' love lavishly on others. "United with Christ" echoes in the other 'if' conditions - getting comfort from His love, having fellowship with the Spirit, being made tender and compassionate.
Q: In what areas of your life might you sometimes find it difficult to be unselfish?
What was the Regier seminar about all this past week, Sunday to Thursday? Lots of learning to develop our intellect? No, the point was to strip away the defenses and barriers people put up to protect their hurting hearts, bring them to Jesus so He can heal their pain, and restore their hearts to have 'tenderness and compassion' so they won't lock up or block those who need their love. But to clean out all that 'junk', that emotional baggage we bring into relationships out of our past, we need to be brought to Jesus and be united with Christ.
Note how much of what Paul says in these verses has to do with our thinking, our mind. V2 be 'like-minded', 'one in spirit and purpose' / NRSV more literally 'in full accord and of one mind'; v5 your 'attitude', NRSV 'let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus'; v3, 'in humility consider others better than yourselves' - these terms involve a Greek root for 'mind' / thinking. Our outlook, attitude, view, mindset. Especially v3, the word 'humility' is literally 'lowliness of mind' - as Mary lowered herself to the floor. And what did Jesus do to get to that point? V6, He did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, v7 but made Himself nothing (kenosis - emptying), taking the very nature of a servant" - clothing Himself in the coveralls of humanness so He could minister on our level, in our midst. Then v8, 'being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself' [literally, to make low, to bring low] and became obedient to death..." Robertson comments that "death on the cross" is "the bottom rung of the ladder from the Throne of God.Jesus came all the way down to the most despised death of all, a condemned criminal on the accursed cross." (Deut 21:23)
So far down - then what? V9 "Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name..." See how much of this passage is about lowering before being made high? Jesus 'went for the feet' - He humbled Himself to do our dirty work, to give His pure spotless God-begotten life so we might be saved from the bondage and corruption of our sin, our filthiness, our dirt. His blood washes clean. Once we're united with Him by bowing our knee and confessing "Jesus Christ is Lord" - THAT'S when He can release into our lives His encouragement (paracleting), the 'comfort from His love', fellowship with the Spirit, His own divine tenderness and compassion. The very things we desperately need in order not be selfish (blocking, self-protective) when dealing with other broken, damaged sinners like ourselves.
Q: How does this Philippians 2 passage throw fresh light on the meaning of "Lordship"?
POURED OUT IN COMMUNITY ON MISSION
This grace of Christ (lowering Himself to raise us up) like Mary's perfume is not meant to be kept bottled up on a shelf, but poured out to and with others. The last of our 'Sevenfold Way of Following Jesus' statements is: I am participating in a community of followers of Jesus on mission to the world.
Jesus didn't operate 'solo', but in community. There was the innermost circle of Peter, James, and John, whom He took to the Mount of Transfiguration and to pray with Him in the garden. There was the community of the Twelve, men who accompanied Him non-stop for over 3 years. There were His close friends, like Mary, Martha and Lazarus. There were other disciples including prominent women who supported the disciples' needs out of their households, and some of whom became the first witnesses of the resurrection (Lk 8:2f). Luke records 120 'believers' gathered to pray in the days before Pentecost. Paul states Jesus appeared to more than 500 'brothers' at one time following the resurrection. So Jesus operated in a variety of circles, always in community.
Rick Warren in The Purpose-Driven Life writes, "The Bible knows nothing of solitary saints or spritual hermits isolated from other believers and deprived of fellowship.The Bible says we are put together, joined together, built together, members together, heirs together, fitted together, and held together and will be caught up together.You're not on your own anymore...The Bible says a Christian without a church home is like an organ without a body, a sheep without a flock, or a child without a family.It is an unnatural state. The Bible says, 'You belong in God's household with every other Christian.' [Eph 2:19b]Today's culture of independent individualism has created many spiritual orphans - 'bunny believers' who hop around from one church to another without any identity, accountability, or commitment. Many believe one can be a 'good Christian' without joining (or even attending) a local church, but God would strongly disagree."
Q: Is there some solitary soul you know whom you could possibly help invite back into the circle of church life?
This community is on a mission - a mission that maximizes the message. Did you catch the scope of God's intent in Philippians 2? God exalted Jesus as Lord and gave Him the name above every name "that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth..." (Php 2:10) It's cosmic - even the spiritual powers in heaven; it's global - every knee on the earth; it is timeless - even those in the world of the dead will be held to account.
We are on mission to the world. This is different from 'jihad' - it's adopted voluntarily, not forced. But it is global in scope - as we saw last week in those 'Great Commission' statements, 'make disciples of all nations' / 'you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.' (Mt 28:19; Ac 1:8) It's not optional, but commanded of every believer by Him who has been given all authority in heaven and on earth (Mt 28:18). Jesus told them in John 20(21ff), "As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you" - missio means 'to send': He sends us, so we're on mission. A mission in the context of those verses that is: salvific (the Father did not send the Son to condemn the world, but to save it, Jn 3:17; Lk 19:10); mission that is Spirit-powered (21:22); and fundamentally spiritual rather than just social - 'if you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven...' (21:23) Nothing wrong with selling goods and giving the money to the poor, Judas - but do it in obedience, in the name of and to honour Jesus.
Q: What does 'mission' look like in your everyday life?
I received an email this
week telling of Christians being persecuted in India. Some had objected
to posters portraying Jesus with a
beer in one hand and a cigarette
in the other: they didn't feel that honoured the Lord. In reprisal for their protest, one mob broke into a family's home. The report reads: "...the group
overturned a scooter, took out the petrol, and doused teacher Christopher Morris and his daughter Daisy with the fuel while the mother, Usha, cringed in their home. They tried to set the two on fire, but the matchbox had also been soaked in the petrol and despite three attempts to strike a match, the matchsticks would not ignite saving the family from being burnt alive. The police were watching. The fire brigade came later but was blocked by a mob for quite some time." (source: http://ipsbu.wordpress.com/2010/03/02/mob-sought-to-burn-alive-two-christian-families-in-batala-church-during-sangh-attack-on-20-february-2010/)
By God's grace their lives were spared.
That's one small example of how believers around the world are in humility lowering themselves, pouring out all they have and are to honour Jesus. The question that begs of me, and with which I leave you, is this: "What poster of Jesus are YOU presenting to the world this week?" Let's pray.