Sunday, March 13, 2016

BROKEN AND POURED OUT

Not many days before he was to be crucified, Jesus was a guest in a home in the village of Bethany, a place not far from Jerusalem. The house was that of one Simon, a man who had been a leper but must have been healed some time before, presumably by Jesus. The man was still called “Simon the Leper.” It would be interesting to talk with Simon the leper to see what he thought of this moniker. Did he wish that people would dispel with the leper part? After all, he no longer had leprosy.

It is a bit like the Old Testament woman Rahab, who had been delivered out of prostitution. Even into the New Testament some fifteen hundred years after she lived, this woman is still called “Rahab the harlot” (Hebrews 11:31 James 2:25). Would she have wished these writers would not have included the harlot part when referring to her? Especially since, not only had she stopped being a prostitute, but also, as the story turned out, she eventually would be part of the line of heritage from whom Jesus Christ would be born.

These are among the questions that I want to ask these historical figures when I meet them one day. I wonder if instead of wanting people to drop these words as part of their names, they perhaps instead considered these titles a constant reminder of the conditions from which they were delivered. Praise God! Simon was no longer a leper, Rahab was no longer a prostitute, but the titles were a like a remembrance token to tell others about the source of their deliverance. 

Jesus was at the home of Simon the leper. It seems that several had been invited to the house for a meal, including Lazarus, the man that Jesus had raised from the dead. In the same line of thought, we might call this man “Lazarus the dead man.” But he was no longer dead. Jesus had again given him life.

Paul the Sinner

The Apostle Paul, long after he had served the Lord many years, still called himself the “foremost” of all sinners (1 Timothy 1:15).
One of the reasons that Paul considered himself in this way was because, before he was converted, he was active in persecuting the church (1 Corinthians 15:9). But here are Paul’s full thoughts regarding his own moniker of being “the foremost of sinners:” 

I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:13-17 ESV) 

For Paul, the fact that he still considered himself as the foremost of sinners was not a symbol of perpetual shame, like the letter “A” on the dress of Hester Prynne (from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s book, The Scarlet Letter). Indeed, Paul’s reminder of his past life instead was a demonstration to him of the overwhelming power of the grace of God. It was a reminder of God’s great love for him.

Likewise, I wonder if it may have been the same for Simon the leper and for Rahab the harlot. God’s power and grace are greater than all. They wore their names as a celebration for what God had done for them. 

I would like you to notice, in Paul’s words, that he said that the grace of God overflowed to him. Other translations say that God’s grace was “more that abundant” (NAS) or that God’s grace “poured out on me abundantly” (NIV), or that it was “exceedingly abundant” (NKJ). 

What Happened at Simon’s House

When Jesus was in the house of Simon the leper and as they were at the table, a woman approached Jesus with a vial of very costly perfume. The vial was made of alabaster, which is a soft stone that was often used for sculpture. The perfume itself was very valuable, probably worth about three hundred denarii. This amount may not mean a lot to you or me, but one denarius was what a man was often paid for one day’s work. This made this container of perfume worth almost a year’s salary.

The woman, it turns out, was Mary, the brother of Lazarus the dead man. It was Mary who had fallen at the feet of Jesus after her brother had died and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:32). It was Mary, who at another time was found again sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to his teachings (Luke 10:39).**

Mary approached Jesus and broke the spout on the vial of perfume. This act of breaking the vial was one of commitment. What she did was not the same as removing a cap so that she could pour out a small amount. By breaking the vial, whatever she intended to do with the perfume, she meant to use all of it.

Mary lifted the vial over Jesus and began to pour it onto his head. This may not necessarily seem like a pleasant thing to you. Actually, neither would I think that that would be pleasant. We have all seen the coach of a football team getting doused with the Gatorade cooler after they won the superbowl. The players do this in celebration, but I sometimes find myself wondering if the victory was worth all of the sticky mess. I have always been a little finicky about sticky things.

 But what Mary did was not the same as that. This was done worshipfully. It was a great act of devotion. And she did not douse Jesus like a cooler of Gatorade, but poured the perfume slowly over his head, and even on to his feet. Then, once again, Mary was at the feet of Jesus, this time wiping his feet with her hair.

More than it is in our time and in our culture, the person who tended the feet of the guest would have been the servant of the house. In those days of dusty roads and sandaled feet, the washing of the feet was task that was both relieving and necessary. Do you remember that this was something that Jesus also demonstrated at the Last Supper when he washed the feet of the disciples? He was making the point that in the Kingdom of God, the master is not one who expects to be served by others, but rather one who serves. 

Some of the Disciples Take Exception

This was what Mary was also doing, and she was doing it in an extravagant way. The perfume that she used to anoint Jesus was worth almost a year’s wages. This particular fact did not set well with some of the disciples, and least of all with Judas.

“Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to poor people?” he complained (John 12:5).

John tells us that the motivation of Judas in saying this was not that he was necessarily concerned for the poor, but because Judas was a thief. Judas was also the one who carried around the money box for the disciples, and he apparently used to pilfer some of the money for himself.

However, putting all of this aside for the moment; if I had been in that group of disciples on that day, I wonder if I would not have been among those who would have said that the money indeed could have been given to the poor people. Why simply pour out a year’s worth of salary? It seems impractical and even wasteful.

If so, Jesus would have answered me as he did the disciples, “Let her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of My burial. For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me.” (John 12:7-8) 

Words About the Poor People

The first notion that that some might have in response to the statement of Jesus, and one which I would like to dispel, is that his words seem like a general disregard for the poor people of this world. They are not. Jesus is not saying, “Don’t worry about the poor! Lavish gifts on me instead and don’t bother yourself with the poor people!”

First of all, even a cursory glance at the life of Jesus shows us that the poor people were among the first of his concerns. It was a main interest in the ministry of Jesus to feed the hungry and to heal those who were sick and who had no other alternatives.

Secondly, a dismissal of the poor should not be implied in this short answer of Jesus. This statement about the poor was an allusion to an Old Testament declaration by God: “For the poor will never cease to be in the land. Therefore, open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land” (Deuteronomy 15:11).

The fact that there will always be poor people, instead of being a reason to dismiss them from our concerns, should instead be the very reason that we continue to try and help them. “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,” Jesus said at another time (Luke 12:13). 

A Pure and Full Worship

The concern for the poor was apparent all throughout the ministry and life of Jesus. However, what Mary did by anointing his feet was an act of pure devotion. The act went beyond what even Mary, or any other the others present, understood. Jesus answered their objection, “Why do you bother the woman? For she has done a good deed to Me. For you always have the poor with you; but you do not always have Me. For when she poured this perfume on My body, she did it to prepare Me for burial” (Matthew 26:10-12). 

The Economics of Worship

When one acts out of pure and full love, the economy of the matter plays a small role. This is a difficult concept for us in the frugal Midwest to understand. In my own experience, growing up on a farm, we were always taught that we needed to be careful with our money. I still think that thriftiness is a virtue, as all of you no doubt would agree.

I would say that the disciples were also thrifty. All of the disciples, with the exception of Judas (who planned on pilfering the money), intended on using it to help poor people. They were, as we usually are, merely thinking in terms of the money. What could they do with the money? We are trained to think in those terms. It is the way that the world operates. We think in terms of how to make the best use of available funds.

I do not say that this is a bad thing, but when it comes to our worship to God, we must learn to separate ourselves from thinking in these terms. Mary poured out the entire contents of the vial upon Jesus. There was no calculation as to what would be a proper amount, what could be considered an acceptable amount. She broke the vial so that she could pour it all out in worship.

There is something about pure and true worship that is simply uncalculating. By saying uncalculating, I do not mean it in the as if to say, that if your worship is true, you are generous with your money. It is not the same thing.

By saying uncalculating, I do not mean it as a sly way of indicating that if you are sincere about your relationship with God, you should give a lot of money to the church. Can we manage to get it into our heads that worship actually has absolutely nothing to do with money? The economics of currency is the system of the kingdom of this world. This is not the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God operates on a different system. 

The Economics of the Kingdom of God

If money is not the system of the kingdom of God, then what is? We have some indications of this, for it was not only Mary who knew how to pour out everything without holding anything back. God has also done this to us. Paul tells us that “The love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:5).

There is no calculating in the giving of God’s love for us. He has poured it out on us.

And God’s grace? “The grace of our Lord was more than abundant (it is poured out), with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus.” (1 Timothy 1:14)

Our own salvation is “not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:5-6). 

The Currencies of Heaven

The love of God, the grace of God, the mercy of God – these are the currencies of the kingdom of heaven. There is no consideration of money. We need to get that currency out of our thinking. We will see that in the final analysis, money has absolutely nothing to do with worship. If we want to know the truth, God does not actually want your money as an indication of our worship. He wants you!

You may have noticed that in the verses that I just quoted speaking of God’s love, his mercy and his grace, when God gives these things to us, he does not just give us what is passable. He does not open the cap and give us just enough love to get by, not just enough grace to meet the need, not only a bit of mercy. Rather than this, he breaks the vial and his love is “poured out,” his grace is “more than abundant,” our own salvation based on his mercy and given through the Holy Spirit is “poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our savior!” 

Dealing in the Currencies of Heaven

What should be our response to this great pouring out of the currencies of God? Here is what the Apostle Paul said of his life: “I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all” (Philippians 2:17).

Even as he was soon to die, Paul wrote to his young friend Timothy, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come” (2 Timothy 4:6). 

How is your own life of worship? Are you calculating in your giving of yourself? Do you say to yourself, “This much of my life is given to God, and this much I am keeping for myself.”

You may think, as you are doing your very careful calculations about the giving of your life to the Lord, that you are being very generous. You have opened the lid and given a very large portion of your life to God. You have tipped the vessel and let some of it come out, and then even tipped it a little more to let even more come out. “Very generous of me!” you say to yourself. "Very generous indeed!"

What! You have opened the lid?? You have opened it only?? Why not break the vial that contains your resources and pour it out? In the economy of heaven, you will find that you can never out-give God.
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** It is a possibility that there were more than one such anointing of Jesus by two different women. However, if this is true, then the similarities between the two events are very strong. Thus, for simplicity, I have chosen to simply consider them the same event. There is much information about the events of the anointing(s) that we are not given, so it is impossible to say for certain if these were really one or two occasions.

 

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