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Which Is True?
John 12:1-11 April 3, 2022

I’m struck by how people can share the same moment of life but see entirely different things.

Have you ever had that happen?

You come away feeling great about something but then your buddy grouses about this thing and nitpicks about something else.

Who was right?

Which was the real moment?

When we ask that about the dinner that Mary and Martha hosted for Jesus, we learn something about our own attitudes and God’s unexpected grace.

This was the evening before Jesus’ palm-lined entry into Jerusalem and it set the stage for the world-changing events that were about to unfold.

On first brush, the scene appeared idyllic: Close friends gathered in a Jerusalem suburb for a quiet evening to celebrate Lazarus’ recovery.

Neighbors strolling by may have marveled that Lazarus – still a little wobbly from his tomb experience – was now reclining by his own strength as they chatted over the special meal Martha had labored all day to prepare.

If they got close, they might have caught a whiff of death’s stench lingering around Lazarus, but mostly the air was filled with aromas of lamb and lentils.

A bit later, the passerby would have been struck by the sweet fragrance of perfume, and they might even have been moved by Mary showing her devotion to Jesus by lavishing nard on his feet.

What could be better?

But this very same scene was playing out very differently in the minds of others.

To Judas, the perfume was a financial blow, money that he could have skimmed for his own use.

To the chief priests the dinner foretold political disaster: word was spreading about Jesus having power over death … something they could never claim, and a possible trigger for the Roman army’s harsher oppression.

And the average man would have been outraged by the sight of a woman touching a man and publicly letting down her hair.

Which was true?

Which was the real scene?

They both were.

The difference is what eyes we bring to life – open and hopeful, or cynical and judgmental – and how trusting we are about what God can do with those seemingly conflicting realities.

Yes, Judas the betrayer was reclining right next to Jesus – bad news, but God will use his betrayal to open the door for Jesus’ redemptive sacrifice.

Whatever outrage a man would feel at Mary’s scandalous action would be lost in her lasting prophetic message of Jesus turning the world’s order on its head.

How so?

Well, isn’t it expected that only men will anoint men?

But here, a woman anoints Jesus.

And, as Mary does this extravagant gesture, she, a woman, is assuming the mantle of a prophet.

Prophets – usually men – often act out outlandish things to grab people’s attention and to illustrate a message from God.

They were like the political cartoonists of their day – making visible what was hard to put into convincing words.

For example, when Ezekiel wanted to illustrate that he carried the Word of God in him, he ate the scroll.

When Jeremiah wanted to demonstrate God’s judgment on Judah, he gathered some priests and smashed a clay jar to the floor exclaiming that is what God would do to them.

When Isaiah wanted to warn his people not to trust an Egypt alliance to save them, he stripped naked and barefoot and walked around town saying this is how it will go for those who trust political alliances more than God.

Prophets do things like that.

They act out the truth that no one else can see.

When Mary stood before Jesus with that pound of pure nard in her hand, it could have gone either way.

She could have poured it on his head symbolically anointing him king – and his most enthusiastic followers had been expecting that he was about to become king.

But she did not do that.

Instead, she dropped to her knees and poured the perfume over his feet, and the only man who got his feet anointed was a dead man, and Jesus knew it.

As a rabbi, Jesus should have admonished her for touching him, but instead he said, “Leave her alone.  Let her finish delivering the message.”

So, Mary rubbed his feet with precious perfume whose sale would have fed a family for a year.

Rather than disdain for what Mary was doing, for those with eyes of faith, there would be some curiosity about what God might be up to now.

God is always using unexpected people to do unexpected things.

Sarah wasn’t expected to have children, but she founded a dynasty.

Moses, a murderer raised in Pharoah’s household, wasn’t expected to lead the Israelites to freedom.

And who’d have ever guessed that his sister Mariam would become a prophet teaching the people to sing of God’s triumph over her parents?

What people did expect was a new messiah who would be like King David, but greater … however, what God gave them was a former carpenter and itinerant preacher.

The next day when they cheered his parade into Jerusalem, they expected they he’d overthrow the Romans.

Instead, he let the Romans crucify him, which everyone then expected was the end of the story.

But instead, it turned out to be just the beginning.

And the priest’s fear was justified.

They rightly feared that if Jesus was left free to carry-on with such miracles that his popularity might unleash a Roman crack down.

But notice how far the powerful – under the belief that they are preserving order and peace – will corrupt a peaceful dinner.

Not only will they send Jesus to a brutal death, but they plotted to murder Lazarus as well.

Nothing personal, just good politics to take out Jesus and Lazarus and erase all evidence of his teaching and miracles.

All that was going on around the seemingly idyllic dinner table.

Jesus alone was mulling over how restoring his friend’s life assured his own sacrificial death to bring salvation to all the world.

In God’s hands, good and evil, righteousness and sin can all be used in unexpected ways.

So, the first challenge this passage may give you is to question the kind of eyes you bring to life.

For most of us, it is natural to reject what doesn’t fit our ideas, to zero-in on what feels off, to find reason to criticize people who aren’t doing things our way.

But when we do, we will live as chronically closed, angry, judgmental people, and that is sad.

What a waste of a human life.

But saddest of all, we may miss what God is up to.

Second, it’s natural to want to hold on to the good we have rather than risk an uncertain future.

After all Martha been through the past week or so, I bet that she would want to hold-on to this carefree evening forever.

But Jesus keeps moving on and calls us to follow, even when, through our eyes, the future looks uncertain.

Maybe there is something in your life that you are desperate to hold onto, something whose loss you fear would be catastrophic, something you want to bottle-up and never risk losing.

But life keeps moving forward and faith is not about holding on, staying put, or seeking safety.

Faith beckons us into the next chapter of life because we know that God will use all that is good, even all that is sinful and deceptive for our good and blessing.

I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know Who holds the future.