We are continuing our journey towards Easter morning by taking one day at a time in the final week of Jesus’ public ministry.  We have seen in the preceding Sundays that Jesus focused his public words towards worship of God.  Jesus entered Jerusalem making the pages of the Old Testament come alive as he rode into the city on a donkey.  While the people who traveled with him cheered and the religious leaders jeered, Jesus teared.  Jesus cried as he came to see the sight of Jerusalem because he understood the people did not see, welcome, and worship God’s arrival. 

The next day, Jesus returned to Jerusalem and cleared the Temple of the buyers and sellers of animals and moneychangers.  Jesus with great force of authority stopped the sacrificial offerings in the Temple and again made the voices of the Old Testament prophets heard again, “The house of the Lord is a place of prayer for all nations!” “Yet, you have made it into a den of robbers.”  Worship of God as it had become was fruitless and destined to wither and die. 

On the subsequent day, Jesus taught the people and fought the religious leaders in the Temple.  In a pinnacle moment, Jesus taught the religious leaders plainly through a story of the wicked tenants that he knew they would soon kill him.  But God would judge them for their refusal to accept Jesus as his Son.  Jesus said all the religious leaders would be swept away and the reigns of worship would be handed over to the most unlikely of people, an odd collection of men that Jesus called his apostles.

Now, today, what we would call the Wednesday of Passion Week, the time for public entrances and public teaching was closing.  The time now was for private matters among friends and family members.  And amid the intimate gatherings the coming Jesus’ death was never far away.  For on this day, two pinnacle events occurred. First, Jesus was anointed as an act of love.  Jesus said the anointing was for his burial by a woman that loved him and understood Jesus was the resurrection and the life.  The second event, Jesus was betrayed by one he loved because Jesus’ betrayer no longer saw Jesus as the earthly king he so wanted.  Love is such an intense and intimate human experience, and it seems to intensify and become more pronounced the nearer the person we love is to death.  The nearness of death strips away our inhibitions and the masks we wear that normally give us the appearance of calmness.  Instead, whatever we want from or for the person we love becomes raw and unashamed.

That intensity of love was shown to Jesus in the anointing of his body.  Each gospel writer spoke of an anointing of Jesus body.  In the four gospel accounts, it seems to me clear that there were two different anointings of Jesus.  One anointing, reported by Luke, occurred in the vicinity of the town of Nain, in Galilee, early in Jesus’ ministry.  The second anointing of Jesus, reported by Mark, Matthew, and John, occurred in Bethany, near Jerusalem, during the last week of Jesus’ mortal life.  I also believe the first anointing of Jesus served as a model for the second anointing.

In the first anointing of Jesus, Luke tells us that Jesus was invited to a dinner by a Pharisee.  During dinner, a woman with a reputation as a sinner, likely meaning a prostitute, arrived at the house where the dinner was being held because she knew Jesus was going to be present.  When the woman was finally in Jesus’ presence, she began to cry.  So hard was this woman crying that she began to cover Jesus’ feet with her tears.

Crying is unique to humans.  Other beings on this earth may express emotions but they do not express such emotions with tears.  We humans are the only beings to cry to express our emotions.  What was emotion was this woman experienced in Jesus’ presence? I think this woman experienced a series of emotions as she felt her life being transformed.  At first, the woman entered the room, no doubt receiving a stare of disgust from the dinner’s host, Simon, and she received a look of acceptance by Jesus.  That began the tears.  This woman while scorned by sinful men was accepted by the one holy man.  In the presence of holiness, the woman realized how sin is an affront to God and yet God welcomes the sinner to come to him. In that realization the woman repented of her past and cried because she now knew she could stay in the presence of holiness.  With a repentant heart, the woman wiped Jesus’ tear wetted feet with her hair, kiss them, and then anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume.  As she did these things for Jesus she cried because she came to realize that her sins had been forgiven, not in part but in the whole. Forgiveness frees us from the pain of the past and the hopelessness of the future.

Simon, a sinful man himself and host of the dinner, saw all that happened, but Simon did so without seeing.  Simon could not see the forgiveness of sins.  Simon could only see a disgusting impure sinner touching a man, and believed that in touching Jesus, this woman made Jesus impure. Simon did not understand that a sinner touching holiness does not change or stain holiness.  A sinner touching holiness changes the sinner.  Jesus understood what had happened and said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven…Your faith has saved you, go in peace” (Luke 7:48, 50).  The woman’s act of love toward Jesus through her anointing of Jesus’ feet with tears and perfume and her transformation life from sin.  This was an important story for those following Jesus and was no doubt told and retold many times.

Then just days before Jesus’ death, another woman, had the opportunity to anoint Jesus, and that anointing was described for us in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and John.  Today, I would like us to look at the account in Mark, since Mark’s was the first gospel produced.  Mark said the Jesus was in Bethany, just two days away from Passover, which we know would be the day for Jesus’ death.  Mark wrote, “While he [Jesus] was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, [a man different than Simon the Pharisee], a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his [Jesus’] head” (Mark 14:3).  John added some details in his account saying that the woman who anointed Jesus with perfume did so on his feet and then wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair filling the whole house with the fragrance of the perfume. John said the woman was Mary, the sister of Lazarus, a very dear friend of Jesus, a friend Jesus had days earlier raised from the dead.

The woman, we will say, Mary, anointed Jesus and in many ways reenacting the behaviors of the woman from Jesus’ first anointing except that Mary here did not express any tears.  Why not? Because unlike the first anointer, Mary, had been a believer in Jesus.  Mary had sat at the feet of Jesus and came to know him.  Mary witnessed the power of Jesus over life and death and that Jesus chose life for others.  Mary had a desire to show her love for Jesus not with an outpouring of tears but with an outpouring of extravagance.  Mary poured out a perfume worth a year’s wages.  To Mary she imitated the first anointer by expressing her love with extravagance, a treasure.

Mark said, “Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, ‘Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.’ And they rebuked her [Mary] harshly (Mark 14:4-5).  John’s gospel was more specific.  John seems to indicate the loudest voice among the critics was that of Judas Iscariot.  John added Judas complained not on behalf of the poor but because Judas wanted to steal some of the money from the sale of the perfume for himself.  Either way, Mary saw her action as an expression of love through an extravagant gift.  The disciples saw Mary’s actions as a waste of money.

We have once again a single act involving Jesus viewed sharply two different ways. Here, we had one person doing something they believed was loving Jesus, someone they saw as of God, as the resurrection and the life.  The others saw the same act as senseless, emotional, and wasteful of money.  This is a common pattern all throughout the journey of Jesus and particularly in this final week.  The people praised Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem and the Pharisees called on Jesus to rebuke them.

Earlier in his ministry, Jesus shared with his followers the key to understanding actions, particularly those that involve treasure.  Luke wrote, “16 And he [Jesus] told them this parable: ‘The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’  18 “Then he [Jesus] said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’  20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’  21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:16-21).

From the parable, Jesus wanted his followers to choose to be rich in their relationship with God placing their love of God above anything else.  Be rich toward God.  This was the message of Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem – be rich toward God and worship him. This was the message of the temple clearing – be rich toward God, stop using the Temple to enrich yourselves. This was the message of the teachings in the Temple the day before – be rich toward God.  Stop producing fruit just for yourselves.

Mary was trying in her own way to be rich toward God by anointing Jesus in a way that showed her great love for him.  The disciples cared more about human treasure and saw the extravagance towards God as a waste.

Jesus’ response to this scene gives clarity to what had transpired.  Jesus said told his disciples “She has done a beautiful thing to me…She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her” (Mark 14:6-9 selections).  Jesus’ response was unexpected.  Jesus said Mary’s love was not only generous but was necessary - necessary to prepare Jesus’ body for burial.  But wait. Bodies are prepared for burial only after someone has died.  Jesus was very much physically alive. 

What then do we make of Jesus’ statement that his body has been made ready for burial?  I believe the key is in what Jesus said next, “Whenever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her" (Mark 14:9).  Jesus was signaling the anointing marked the end of his public ministry and the beginning of the core of the gospel message.  From this point forward, Jesus would speak and act gospel message.  What is the gospel, the good news?  Namely, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.  The heart of the gospel had started with the anointing of Jesus’ body for burial.

Surprisingly, none of the gospel accounts describe any questions of Jesus about his body being readied for burial.  No one seems to have asked, “Jesus, what do you mean Mary anointed you body for burial?  What burial? When?  Why?”

Instead of asking Jesus to clarify what he meant, Mark wrote, “10 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them. 11 They [The chief priests] were delighted to hear this and promised to give him [Judas] money. So he [Judas] watched for an opportunity to hand him [Jesus] over [to the chief priests]” (Mark 14:10-11). Matthew says Judas received 30 pieces of silver.

Judas having witnessed an extravagance of love toward Jesus chose that moment to betray Jesus into the hands of the chief priests.  The chief priests were the very people Jesus had told the disciples on three prior occasions (e.g., Mark 8:11-12; 9:30-32; 10:33-34) would kill him.  If Judas had been paying attention to Jesus’ words, then Judas must have known his betrayal of Jesus would end in Jesus’ death.  What would cause Judas to betray Jesus?  Luke says Satan had entered Judas and Judas decided to betray Jesus.  This does not mean Judas was possessed by Satan and therefore, no long accountable for his actions.  Satan entered Judas meant that Judas who it seems had been drifting away from Christ, as evidenced by his stealing from the moneybag, saw in Jesus’ anointing the last straw.  Judas must have thought whatever pleasures or power he thought he was going to get for himself from Jesus was not going to happen.  Rather than just walk away, Judas opted instead to get some money for his troubles.  The chief priests would be willing to pay for Judas’ help.  Judas’ conduct is as shocking to the reader as Mary’s anointing. Mary showed great love toward Jesus by anointing Jesus extravagantly with perfume costing a year’s wages. Judas showed great bitterness toward Jesus by betraying Jesus for a month’s wages.  Time and again, the gospel writers show us the contrasts in behavior of those who seek to worship God and those who seek to reject God.

What then do we take from these stories of contrast?  I do not think it is hard to see that the closer you come to knowing the person of Jesus, you will either love him or hate him.  Now there are many people who would say, “I know of Jesus, but I do not hate him, I just do not believe in him.”  But they would be missing the point.  To not love Jesus is to hate him.

There simply is no middle ground when it comes to Jesus.  This is not my thought.  This is Jesus’ thought.  Jesus said to his disciples, “If you love me, keep my commands” (John 14:15). Jesus then said, “21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them” (John 14:21).  To not love Jesus is to hate him.

After the resurrection, Jesus spoke with Peter.  15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”  16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”  He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”  Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”  17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”  Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”  Jesus said, “Feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17).  To not love Jesus is to hate him. 

Mary loved the Lord extravagantly.  Do we love Jesus extravagantly or do we just love him every so often when we think of him?  Do we love Jesus like the sinful woman because we are forgiven and transformed, or do we love Jesus only on Sunday when we want others to think we have been transformed?  Love the Lord your God.  Do not do as Judas did and allow some bitterness to keep you from love.  Remove whatever is in your way and anoint Jesus extravagantly with your love.  Let us pray.