Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

The Anointing of Jesus

The Anointing of Jesus

I think we all want to do the right thing - the thing that God wants us to do. But we often wonder what that thing might be. It is so confusing - we have ideas from our growing up years about what is right; we have ideas from our experience that tells us what is right; we have ideas from those around us at work, in our families, our friends, about what is right; we have ideas from all sorts of other places - media, books, articles, TV. There are ideas all around us about what is the right thing to do… We just don’t know what is really ‘right’. How do we truly know what the right thing to do might be; how do we sift through all these conflicting voices; and how do we have the strength to do the right thing when, for the most part, not doing the right thing is so much easier!
God tried his best to teach his people how to do what was right. Once he gathered them together after he freed them from Egypt, he took them out into the wilderness where he kept them pretty much isolated. There were absolutely no outside influences on God’s people while they were in the wilderness. This was God’s way of assuring they would hear only him and that they could be immersed in the truth God wanted them to know. There would be no opportunity for them to hear opposing views or different ideas or different interpretations. God’s people could learn straight from the horses mouth what God wanted them to know; they could be trained to always make the right choices and do the right thing by learning from God.
But eventually the wilderness journey ended and God deemed his people ready to enter the promised land. He told them when they went into the promised land, there would be other people there. People who did not belong to God; people who worshipped other gods; people who had the wrong idea about how to live. God instructed his people that when they went to the promised land, they were going to have to fight for the territory and they were to wipe everyone out - everyone.
Now as horrible as that sounds, let’s think about why God wanted them to do this. God knows that the ‘right way to live’ is the way that will best represent God and will be the best way for his people to live in joy and peace. That is the whole reason God gives his followers a ‘right way’ to do things - because it is good for us and good for the world around us. God was trying to prevent these opposing views to distract his people from the truth and the ‘right’ thing.
And that is exactly what happened. God’s people invaded the promised land like God told them, they conquered the land and claimed it for their own - for God - but they did not wipe out all the inhabitants like God had told them to and the result is exactly as God had predicted. Within a very short period of time, God’s people had been pulled away from God because they listened to the people around them more than God. Whether the people around them made more sense; or their way of life was easier; or they just wanted to be ‘liked’ by the neighbors - is pretty immaterial. It is so easy to let popular thought invade the way God wants us to live - to alter the God wants us to think.
Because God’s way is always different from what we are influenced by in the world around us.
We often talk about Jesus and his disciples. Usually when we say disciples we think - the 12. The 12 guys that Jesus called to be the ones who followed him and learned from him. But not only were there more followers than just those 12 - there were many men and women who followed Jesus and helped him and came to learn and follow his message. There were even those other than the 12 whom Jesus looked to in a more of a ‘friend’ type relationship. Three of those friends were sisters Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus. Lazarus, we remember, gained some notoriety because he died and Jesus brought him back to life in a rather dramatic fashion!
Mary and Martha, on the other hand, are the stars of one of the more important lessons Jesus teaches us. Important because it emphasizes for us God’s ways over our ways.
The story of Mary and Martha highlights our feeling that if we are not being productive, then we are not doing the right thing. If we are not working, or cleaning, or just doing then something is wrong. Our value, we believe, is what we can accomplish - a clean house, an immaculate yard, kudos at work for working overtime and putting out the most product or the most billable hours. We call it that ‘puritan work ethic’ which is not so much a biblical concept is as it is just a puritan way of looking at things. this is one of our great reminders that God looks at things a whole lot differently than we do.
In one account of the stories of Jesus, Jesus is at the home of Mary and Martha. Some people have come over to listen to Jesus teach and Mary joins them. Martha, meanwhile, is in the kitchen banging pots and pans and slamming cabinet doors and huffing and puffing because Mary chose to listen to Jesus teach rather than

help her put the food together. Martha actually goes in to where Jesus is teaching, interrupts and says, “Make Mary help me!” And Jesus looks at Martha and says, “Mary has made the right choice.” In other words, he is telling Martha that sometimes it is better to sit down and learn and not worry about the busyness of our life. Sitting down and taking the time to pray, to talk to God, to read scripture is OK; even if it means that one of those chores that doesn’t necessarily have to be done right then doesn’t get done. Even if there is work we could be doing - because there is always work that we could be doing - Jesus says that the right thing is to take some of that time and spend it with him.
See how Jesus is going against the assumptions of our society that we think we know what the right thing is - society says working and being productive is the right thing and even attributes it to the Bible. Jesus really says, rest in me; take time to sit and listen and enjoy and rest - even if there is work we could be doing.…
In our Gospel lesson today, Mary is again the recipient of criticism. It is the night before what we call Palm Sunday and Jesus is in the town of Bethany, the same town Mary, Martha and Lazarus live in but this time he is at the home of Simon. His disciples are there and sometime during the evening Mary stops by. She has with her a jar of nard - a very expensive ointment. In fact nard was so valuable people would collect it and save it almost like a retirement account - sort of like people save gold. She took the ointment and poured it over Jesus which is a great act of humility. It was an act of sacrifice and a way of telling Jesus how much she loved and honored him. The disciples are right there and they get very angry. “Why in the world are you letting her do that?” they exclaimed. “Think about all that money that is being wasted. We could have sold that nard and used that money to help the poor! Think how many hungry people that would have fed!”
Makes sense to us does it not? Aren’t we suppose to be taking care of the poor and the hungry? Jesus told us to do that - surely Jesus would want that expensive nard to do a ‘good work’ rather than just lavishing it on him. Right? If we didn’t know any more about this story what would you expect Jesus to say…….
But, again, Jesus doesn’t say what we expect. Jesus says, “Let Mary alone!” Again, she is being criticized just like her sister Martha criticized her when she wouldn’t help in the kitchen and once again, Jesus came to her defense. “There will always be time to care for the poor, but she is honoring me in a way that you guys never have. She is giving away her future for me. She is taking this opportunity to show her love for me.”
The moral of the story is this - the lawn will always need tended; there will always be dishes to wash and clothes to put away; there will always be work that needs to be accomplished; there will always even be ‘church’ stuff to do - but there will not always be opportunities to spend with God - whether it be a quiet moment in prayer; whether it be coming to a Bible Study or to worship; whether it be taking time, to not just read the Bible, but to study it.
If we are going to learn to make the right choices as the people of God; if we are going to be willing to do the ‘right thing’ as the people of God - the only way to do that is to spend time with God learning and absorbing and letting him teach us and lead us. What we find is ‘the right thing’ is often not what we think it should be.
As we wind up this season of Lent, reflect on the choices you make. Do you choose the busyness the world teaches us as the right thing to do - or do you choose spending time with God, which is what God teaches us to do.