The Way of Extravagant Love - Reflections 3-30-2022

Texts for Sunday 4-3-2022 
Fifth Sunday in Lent

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

Sometimes there are people in life with whom a person just feels at home. You don’t have to act any special way because they know you and love you for who you are. It is wonderful to spend time with them.

Martha, Mary, and Lazarus were those kind of people for Jesus. These two sisters and their brother lived in Bethany. Jesus stayed at their home as often as he could, was welcomed and fed, listened to their bickering, and had far-reaching conversations with them. He loved them dearly. They loved him dearly.

Today’s Gospel text from John reports about Jesus’ last visit with the family.

As it happens, at the visit just before this one, Jesus came in response to getting word that Lazarus had died. Jesus wept over his friend’s death with Mary; then he went to the grave with Martha and he called Lazarus out of the grave.

As it happens, this final visit in this week's text is about a week before Jesus’ death. Bethany is close enough to Jerusalem that it is dangerous for Jesus to be there. Those in power were thinking that it was time to deal with this popular person who challenged the foundation of their authority and privilege. Raising Lazarus from the dead put a bullseye on Jesus’ back. Actually, it also put a bullseye on Lazarus’ back.

So, at this visit, he is settling in for a meal served by Martha with Lazarus also at the table ready to eat. Mary kneels before Jesus. In an earlier visit, Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to his teaching so it was not surprising to see her do so again. But this time she poured costly perfume (nard) on his feet and wiped those feet with her hair...  An extravagant sign of love.

She believed Jesus when he said he must die. She knew he was on his way to do that in a most dreadful way. The perfume she used was often used in burials (maybe it was left over because Lazarus was raised?). When people anointed corpses with oils and spices, they started with the feet and hands. Judas challenged her extravagance. But Mary understood: Jesus will show his extravagant love by and through his death.

In a few more days from this story in John, Jesus will be at another meal, this one is for Passover with his disciples. Like Mary, he will kneel. He will kneel before his disciples, wash their feet, and wipe them with his towel. Through this gesture, Jesus will demonstrate how to be his disciple - love and serve the world. You know, like Mary.

Both stories use the same Greek word for “wipe”, intentionally linking them. Mary knew and Jesus went on to teach the disciples: Being Jesus’ follower meant using extravagant love, servant love. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples; if you have love (13:35).

Both stories include Judas. He opposes Mary’s act and shows how not to be a disciple. He does not live by extravagant love. The author of John doesn’t hide his scorn for Judas; he adds parenthetical comments to clarify just how much Judas is NOT an example to follow.

Jesus rides into Jerusalem next Sunday following the way of extravagant love to the end.

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Written by Pam Larabee-Zierath


Gathered by Grace, Scattered for Service
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