“Poor Judas” John 12:1-8
Delivered to Church for the Highlands
Sunday, March 17, 2012 Fifth Sunday in Lent
Did you see the smoke from this past week? Perhaps you heard about it, with news quickly expanding all the way from the Vatican. As the white smoke billowed from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel, the people of Rome and around the world soon learned that there was a new pope. Shaming all Pastor Search Committees everywhere, the Cardinals filled the job in just two days. Sighs of relief among Catholics and smiles of joy were not hard to miss since Tuesday’s announcement.
Catholics are not the only ones who are excited. Protestants and people of other religions have expressed their gratitude as well, especially because of the kind of person Pope Francis already appears to be. Just the fact that the he chose to name himself Frances, after St. Frances of Assisi (the patron saint of this Baptist church!) is revealing. As you recall, Frances of Assissi chose to give up his wealth to take on the vocation of a priest. He was burdened for the physical and spiritual condition of the church and heard God’s calling to do something about it. What Francis is known for most is his focus on the poor and the environment. It sounds like Pope Francis shares the same focus, with quotes from in the paper about church not being about doctrinal issues, but outreach to the world and wishing for a church for the poor and a poor church. It is too early to know for sure, but it sure sounds like the pope gets the point about Jesus.
Our gospel text today, John 12:1-8, shows us what it looks like when someone gets the point about Jesus. It also shows us what it looks like when someone doesn’t get the point. John told the same story we can read in Luke, but he presents it in a different manner, with a slightly different angle. John wants us to know the significance of what is taking place at the home of Simon the Leper. He gives us some insight into what is happening as Mary broke open her finest Chanel and lavishly poured it on the well-worn feet of Jesus. Her actions are in great contrast to the reaction of Judas, who equated lavishly action with irresponsibility. He criticized her right then and there for her act. As John tells us, But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” 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.) Every party needs a pooper and Judas definitely pooped on this one. He missed the point about Jesus.
John wanted to be sure everyone knew who did get the point. As it was more often than not, the one who really got the point about Jesus was not the religious scholar. It was not the rich, the righteous, the popular. No, it was the “sinner” in the crowd who no one else seemed to notice. That is what happened with this woman. She made every effort to show her understanding, gleaned from personal experience, of who Jesus was and what he was all about. Her extreme generosity and wholehearted sacrifice to Jesus speak throughout the ages of what it looks like when a person gets to point about Jesus.
So, just what did she get? John’s account of this event is different in several ways, one of which is in filling us in on who is at the table. Did you catch that Lazarus was there? He is there, sitting at the table, recently revived from the dead and barely out of his grave clothes. What must that have been like? What kind of prayer do you think he gave at the start of the meal? Seeing Lazarus there at the table helps us understand how full Mary’s heart must have been as she took in the scene as she walked into the room. New life was sitting at the table. And the source of new life was sitting right next to him. No wonder she fell at the feet of Jesus with her very best. Wouldn’t you?
Back to Judas. He had entered the same room. He too could see the results of what happened when Jesus touched a life, of the power of God even over death. And yet his reaction was drastically different. Well, yes, he was trying to be responsible. He must have cared for the poor, even if his statement came off more as concern more about policies and procedures than about the poor. Even if he was really concerned about helping the poor, he missed what was really happening there in the splashes of perfume.
Here we go. It’s not even Holy Week yet and we are already beating up on Judas. It’s not hard to do, for he does become for us a scapegoat in many ways. Pointing our finger at Judas and putting our eyes on him keeps us from doing the same to ourselves. I wonder, though, how is it that we can so easily miss the point about Jesus? How is it that you and I walk in, right past the Lazarus’ in our midst and not see the one who is the source of their new life? How is it that we can be attentive to the duties of our work in the church while forgetting why–and for whom–we do that work to begin with? However it is we miss the point, we do miss it. Our way of changing our behavior is helped more by our repentance than our self-analysis. So, how is that we can be more like Mary than Judas?
Maybe the best next step for us is to look around the room a bit, not just looking but really seeing who is here. Go ahead, take a look. See Lazarus anywhere? I think you can see a lot of them. Here is Lazarus. There is Lazarus. We are all Lazarus, aren’t we? We ought to come to worship with such a sense of awe of the new life in this room that we can’t help but do anything but drop to our knees at the feet of Jesus and give him our best. Maybe we, like Judas, become desensitized to what Jesus does that we just stop being awed by it all. Or, maybe we feel it deep down inside, but our focus has become so much on the business of ministry that we totally miss the one for whom and through whom all our ministry takes place.
Yes, Jesus is concerned for the poor. He was poor and he spent more time around them than he did the rich. Yet, he knew the vital necessity of the heart of service. He made it clear that what Mary did for him that day was what we should all do–stay connected to the source of it all. That’s what this season of Lent is all about, isn’t it? We identify some things in our lives that have become bigger to us than our heart for Jesus and we set them aside. We look within and see the attitudes, the thoughts, the worries, and we change our minds about them. We take time to see that even our best effforts to help the poor and needy of our world can be in vain unless we are remembering why it is that we do what we do. We do all of this,, remembering that new life is here. It is sitting at the table with us. Our acts off devotion too the one who is the source of it all will flower into the beauty of thee empty grave of Easter. Now, though,, let us not miss the point of Jesus.
I love the emphasis today upon St. Patrick. There is a beautiful prayer attributed to him, his morning prayer, also known as the Breasplate prayer. Hear these words and listen for how he views service coming out of a devotion to Jesus,
I arise today
Through God’s strength to pilot me;
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s hand to guard me.
Afar and anear,
Alone or in a multitude.
Christ shield me today
Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ in me.