5th Sunday in Lent, April 3, 2022
Rev. Misa Furumoto
We have now just two weeks till Easter. Time is flying as the cherry blossoms are falling very fast. This time of the year in Japan is the most beautiful with lots of flowers everywhere and a very comfortable temperature. But at the same time, it is the busiest time of the year, as the month of April is the beginning of a new fiscal year in Japan. So, every year, it seems like, the cherry blossoms are all gone by the time I notice. And it may be the same for the Lenten season. To avoid asking yourself, “No way, it’s not Easter tomorrow, is it?”, let us listen to the words of the Lord carefully and think what it is to live as a disciple of our Lord Jesus.
Today’s Gospel tells the story of Jesus’ anointing by Mary of Bethany. The time is just six days before the Passover when Jesus takes the last supper with his disciples and get arrested right after. Before entering Jerusalem, Jesus and His disciples were invited to a dinner at the house of Martha, Lazarus, and Mary. Lazarus is, as you know, the one who was miraculously raised from the dead by Jesus. It isn’t said, but it could have been a special dinner given to Jesus as a token of their gratitude for the fact that Lazarus returned. When they all sat at the table, Mary took a pound of expensive perfume made of pure nard, poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair.
What in the world did Mary want to do? Isn’t that action bizarre? It is understandable if you just hand to a special guest a nice and hot towel so that the guest can wipe his/her dirty hands him/herself. It is a kind of omotenashi service in Japan. But Mary, she pours such expensive oil which is worth three hundred denarii, almost a person’s one-year wages, on the guest’s feet and wipes them with her hair. Do you see? There are two points here. First Mary offered Jesus all she had. There was nothing more she could have given. Second, she wiped Jesus’ feet, not hands, not head, but His feet.
Let’s just imagine the gesture she took. If you want to wipe someone’s feet, how do you position yourself? You kind of have to crouch low, really low. As you look down, you naturally bow on your knees.
Mary took the lowest position herself before Jesus and offered the most valuable thing she had. Jesus saw her and praised her by saying “she bought this perfume so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.” Mary probably had neither idea that Jesus was going to be killed in a week nor intention to use the perfume to put on his body laid in a tomb. I imagine she just wanted to show her heartfelt gratitude for raising her loving brother from the dead. She trusted Jesus, and she knew that He was the Savior, and she loved Him from the bottom of her heart.
This action of Mary echoes the special event that was to occur in six days, Jesus’ foot washing. At the last supper, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, bowing down on his knees. This act of Jesus was to express his love for his disciples and to tell them to repeat this act of love for one another. Jesus saw this already in the act of Mary. She fulfilled Jesus’ love commandment before He even taught it.
And as Mary freely poured the precious perfume for Jesus, He poured freely his life on the cross so that each one of us covered with sin would live. When she did it, it is said that the house was filled with the fragrance of perfume. When Jesus died and was raised after three days, the light was filled in the empty tomb.
This story is telling us that loving God and following Jesus is not just something you do it on the side like giving money to the poor like Judas Iscariot suggested. I’m not saying that we don’t need to help poor people, I’m sure you understand. It is absolutely an important act of love. But doing something good can be only for the purpose of self-satisfaction. You could do it without thinking about God. You could be doing it just for yourself, to accumulate virtue, and not for God.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. It is written in the Gospel of John 3:16. We want to respond to this love. As Mary did, and also as Jesus did, let us bow on our knees before the immeasurably huge love of God and give everything of ourselves. The hour is near. Let us prepare ourselves for the time the world is filled with the fragrance of Christ our Lord.
In the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.