20190317 Sunday worship sermon
"Breaking the jar" (John 12: 1-8)
I have had three funerals during the past week.
There was a funeral service for Pastor Leui’s brother last week Saturday.
A funeral for one of the Korean Congregation, was held last Tuesday.
And as you know there was Kenneth’s funeral service yesterday.
Through these funerals we celebrated and remembered their life and death.
These funerals had me once again thinking about death.
I thought that life and death were not that far apart.
And I thought that it is not only important to live well, but also important to be prepared for death.
Lent is the season of remembering the suffering and death of Jesus Christ.
Today is the third Sunday in Lent.
In this precious time, we meet a woman who had prepared for Jesus' death.
Yes, today, I am going to share a story of a woman whom we cannot ignore during the time of Lent.
In the Gospel of John, the woman's name was recorded as "Mary", the sister of Lazarus, but in the Gospel of Matthew and Mark, she appears as an unnamed "woman."
It is not important whether this woman’s name was Mary or not.
It is what she did that is important.
In Matthew 26:13 Jesus said,
“Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” (Matthew 26:13)
I want us to think about the precious work she had done and how to apply her attitude in our lives.
Now Jesus was going to Jerusalem.
Going to Jerusalem has a special meaning to many people back in the Bible time.
Jerusalem was known to be a place for success and recognition.
And Jerusalem was the center of all the politics, economy, religion and power at the time of Jesus.
Many people headed toward Jerusalem with high expectations for a better life and success.
Jesus was going to Jerusalem with his disciples.
Perhaps the hearts of the disciples were bloated with expectation and anticipation.
In their mind, they might have thought like this.
"Our teacher, who was working in the countryside around Galilee, is finally trying to reveal himself ... And now more people will follow our teacher ... Soon our teacher will liberate our nation from the oppression of Roman Empire and free us from political leaders and religious leaders ... "
Yes, with that in mind, the disciples were going to Jerusalem following Jesus.
Only one person was thinking differently.
It was Jesus Himself.
Jesus knew in advance what would happen to him if he went up to Jerusalem.
Jesus was going to Jerusalem after he announced to his disciples, "When the Son of man goes to Jerusalem, he will be seized, suffered, and put to death."
Then, on the way to Jerusalem, a woman appeared before Jesus.
And through that woman, Jesus received a precious gift.
Today’s scripture passage describes the scene.
Six days before the Passover, Jesus went to Bethany.
There a woman who was called Mary in John’s Gospel, appeared in the dining place where Jesus was, and broke the jar that was containing very expensive perfume, made of pure nard, and poured all the perfume on Jesus’ feet, then washed his feet with her hair.
The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
At the time, the people around, were unable to understand what had just happened.
They were gossiping and grumbling.
"How could anyone waste such expensive and precious perfume like that? That is a stupid act. It is insane…”
They were rebuking the woman.
Then, Jesus said a few words after he heard the reactions of the people.
This is the whole story for today.
The story of Mary pouring perfume on Jesus’ feet and wiping it with her hair is only recorded in John 12:3.
The whole act is recorded in one verse.
However, we remember and reverence her act of sacrifice and love for Jesus at the time of Lent.
What was the act of this woman that is still touching our hearts even 2,000 years later?
Let us all think about it together.
First, let us look at the reaction of the people regarding her behavior.
In the Gospel of Matthew and Mark, some of the people around her, or vaguely called "disciples," blame this woman's action.
"How can you waste that precious thing like that ... " was their reaction.
And then the story continues with Judas Iscariot going to the chief priests and devised to sell Jesus.
But the gospel of John describes this story a little different.
It specifies “who” had complained and grumbled about the woman’s action.
In verse 4-5 it is said,
“But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (verses 4~5)
Yes, it was Judas Iscariot.
What Judas said was very simple.
"How expensive this perfume is... If you sell this perfume, it will be worth three hundred denarii. (Three hundred denarius was worth a year’s wage back in the Bible time) I would sell the perfume and give three hundred denarii to the poor. I believe this is what Jesus would want us to do. Why does this woman waste it by pouring it all on the feet of Jesus?”
Everyone at the place was shocked by the woman’s action and thought that her action was foolish.
Yes, they all had shown negative reaction first.
Why did Judas say such a thing?
Did he really care for the poor?
The Bible says no, he didn’t.
In verse 6 it is said,
“He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.” (verse 6)
Some theologians think Judas was greedy but some have different opinions.
Judas was a member of the extremist party in Judaism called Zealots.
Zealots were a party zealous for Jewish independence and throwing off Roman rule by force.
They hoped to accomplish this by inciting the people to rebellion and driving the Romans from Israel.
To Judas Iscariot, who was a Zealot, Jesus was increasingly disappointed.
When Judas first followed Jesus, he believed that Jesus would free the nation of Israel from Rome with his miraculous power.
But as he spent time with Jesus, Judas realized that Jesus had no interest in the liberation of Israel.
Judas was becoming anxious.
He wanted to mobilize people to fight.
Entering Jerusalem could have been an opportunity to bring down Romans and liberate Israel.
But Judas was becoming frustrated about Jesus and his ministry which did not fit to his plan.
His hope and expectation in Jesus had been collapsed.
“Jesus is not the guy I need. I just wasted 3 years of my life following Jesus.”
This must have been the thought of Judas.
When he was ready to leave Jesus, this incident of pouring perfume on Jesus’ feet happened.
We can imagine why Judas could not take this positively.
Now, all the people around the woman had accused her that it was a waste of money and a stupid thing to do.
What was there, in the woman’s heart?
This woman had a jar that contained very expensive perfume worth a year’s wage.
She just poured it over the feet of Jesus.
Saving a jar of perfume might take a lot of time.
She might have been collecting over many years.
It was the most valuable possession that she owned.
And when Jesus appeared, she poured out her most precious possession on the feet of Jesus and showed unprecedented hospitality.
She did not just pour the perfume.
She poured out her heart and her life.
In the Gospel of Mark, it is said that she broke the jar.
Why did she break the jar?
It is the woman's will to give everything she had even the last drop of the perfume.
The woman, though she was not conscious of it, had shown great hospitality toward Jesus before he faced his suffering and death.
Her dedication eventually became for Jesus’ death and burial.
She did not waste anything.
Her action was beautiful and holy.
So we call it a “Beautiful Waste,” or “Holy Waste.”
It was a useless waste in the eyes of the world, but it was beautiful and holy in the eyes of the Lord.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, our faith is not something that can be calculated.
In common sense, the calculations and logic of the world, we cannot understand the mysteries of faith.
Because she loved the Lord, she could do it, without thinking about how much the perfume cost.
Yes, that heart, that love, has enabled this woman to pour the perfume on Jesus.
This woman's action also carries another meaning.
That she did not miss the opportunity of devotion.
Perhaps she realized that something will happen soon and it could have been the last chance to express her love to Jesus.
If she had hesitated and decided to wait till the next visit by Jesus, this beautiful act of hospitality could not happen.
Brothers and sisters, opportunity to show our devotion to the Lord is not always there.
If you want to live for Jesus and want to do something for Jesus, now is the time.
Do not hesitate. Do not delay.
You may not have the opportunity again.
Just like the story in the Bible, if the woman did not show her love right there, she would never have another chance because Jesus was going to be crucified soon.
This woman realized it and poured everything she had for the Lord with the expression of love and dedication.
What had happened after the woman poured everything she had for Jesus?
Today’s text tells us that the fragrance of her perfume, filled the entire house.
The fragrance represents love, sacrifice, dedication and care for Jesus.
Was this fragrant only filled in the house? No.
This fragrance of love for the Lord covers the whole world.
Beyond time and space, this fragrance touches our hearts here and now.
Yes, this fragrance still touches our hearts whenever we think about her story.
Brothers and sisters, I wish you and I can live like this woman.
I wish our love and devotion to the Lord be of fragrance and able touch many people, transcend time and space, and stay for a long time.
Now, let’s see how Jesus reacted to the woman’s hospitality?
In verses 7 and 8, Jesus said,
“Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” (verses 7-8)
The people in the place were surprised by his reaction.
They expected Jesus to rebuke the woman for wasting instead of tending the poor.
However, Jesus said, “leave her alone”.
All the people around Jesus did not understand him.
Some might say,
“It seems like Jesus has changed. Jesus seems to lose his first intention. Who was Jesus? Jesus, more than anyone, was interested in the poor and did ministry for them. But how can I understand this situation now? Jesus is now allowing this woman’s foolish behavior wasting this precious thing. Why did Jesus say “leave her alone”? I don’t understand. It seems like Jesus has changed…”
This was the thought of Judas Iscariot and other disciples, and those around Jesus at that time.
Then, why did Jesus react like that?
Why did Jesus allow this woman’s foolish behavior?
It is because Jesus knew the woman's heart.
Jesus knew that what she was offering was not merely a jar of perfume that can be calculated, but it is of the woman's heart which was priceless.
What Jesus saw was her heart and the whole life of the woman in the perfume.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, the woman in the story offered her precious perfume on the foot of the Lord who was about to be crucified.
Are we giving anything to Jesus, that is precious to us?
It was not like, this woman was not aware of the accusations surrounding her.
However, her love for the Lord was so great that she poured every last drop of this perfume onto Jesus feet.
And the Lord, knowing the heart and soul of the woman and the labor of the woman, calmed down those who blamed the woman's actions and said, "Leave her alone.”
The work that she has done will be handed down wherever the gospel is transmitted to the world.
Jesus accepted her.
We are going through the season of Lent.
Lent is the season of remembering the suffering and death of Jesus.
Also Lent is the season of remembering and reviving this beautiful heart of devotion for the Lord as this woman has shown.
In this time of Lent, we make our minds and hearts ready for remembering Jesus.
Although it might be seen as a foolish act, I would like to challenge you to give your sincerity, love, confession, and dedication to the Lord in this time of Lent just like the woman in the Bible did. Amen.