7 April—The Fifth Sunday in Lent
Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
How is this Lent changing you?
How is what you’ve given up, or what you’ve taken on…how is that changing you?
How is God, the Holy Spirit, working on—molding—shaping—pulling you into this new creation… that God is unfolding?
How is that new life being birthed in you?
Paul can be an icon of change. Last week I suggested, ironically, that people don’t change…but Paul does. Dramatically. Or since we’re practicing non-dual thinking, Paul both does and does not change.
Last week, writing to the Corinthians, he says that he has learned how to see differently, “From now on, we regard no one from a human point of view,” (2 Cor. 5:16). Today, writing to the church at Philippi, he expands on that. He sees everything differently. Literally. Remember that upon his sudden conversion on the road to Damascus he is stuck blind. And he remains blind for three days. And it’s only through the ministry of someone named Anaias, and the company of others that he regains his sight—relearns how to see— and refocuses his vision. (Acts 9, 22, 26)…community is always integral to how change happens.
And today…all of the gifts he has been given…all the things he valued and treasured…being circumcised on the 8th day, a member of the people of Israel, tribe of Benjamin, a Pharisee, zealous, righteous, blameless under the law…that all remains true…AND…it all looks completely different. He doesn’t dismiss these gifts, or try to renounce them…he continues to embrace them and use those gifts…he just employs them differently now.
How are you changing? What scales are falling from your eyes?
The Lenten series some of us have been participating in—Liberating Ourselves from Racism—is changing the way I see…changing the way I understand my own participation in, and capacity to resist, the sin of racism… I was reminded this week of something Deb Jacoby-Twigg, our guest preacher on Lent 1 said, this series and the conversations around race that we’re having is making my white bubble thinner…and my skin thicker…which is definitely not comfortable…but a very positive change.
The Living Stones Listening conversations that a few of you are beginning to have…I hear that these are changing how you view your relationships with people here…making our communal connections stronger, and more open. Which is also very positive. But none of it’s easy.
What is changing in you? How is Lent remolding you?
This family at Bethany—Mary, and Martha, and Lazarus—are also icons for us as well…icons of open, honest, courage in the face of the dominating power of the day. But it’s hard to see that on first glance. In part, it’s because this story just gets dropped on us today—The lectionary often jumps around—and that makes it hard to see what’s going on.
First, we’ve switched from Luke to John. In Luke, this visit to Bethany takes place much earlier in Jesus’ ministry (Luke 10:38-42), and there’s no mention of Lazarus. In Luke, this visit is the one where Martha is running around complaining, and Mary is just sitting there, and Martha says, “tell her to help me!” and Jesus says, “Martha, Martha, you are worried about many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part.” In John’s version, this visit takes place at the end of Jesus’ ministry. Martha is still serving and Mary is doing what Mary does, and because it’s John, Lazarus is here as well.
The story of the resurrection of Lazarus appears only in John, and it forms one of the climactic moments in the Gospel narrative. For John, it is the penultimate sign that Jesus is who he says he is: 1. He changes water to wine; 2. he heals the centurions son; 3. heals a paralytic; 4. feeds 5000 in the wilderness; 5. walks on water; 6. heals a man blind from birth; and now just before the Passover; he goes to Bethany (very near Jerusalem) and 7. brings Lazarus back to life. It is this act, in John, that drives Caiaphas the high priest and others to plot Jesus’ destruction.
In the modern film version, Lazarus emerging from the tomb, and the high priests’ plotting, “a more permanent solution to our problem,” [Jesus Christ Superstar] and Jesus and his disciples fleeing and hiding out would come right at the end of Act II. The scene today opens Act III.
It’s just six days before the Passover. Everyone is on the lookout for Jesus—some because the want to welcome him as a king, and others because they want to arrest him and make him disappear. The very next thing that happens after this…is the triumphal entry into Jerusalem—what will memorialize next week. In other words, the stakes are super high. Coming back to Bethany, so close to Jerusalem is a huge risk for Jesus; and it’s a huge risk for Mary, Martha, and Lazarus to harbor him.
At dinner, several things happen: two that are key to understanding the changes that are afoot in the characters and in us. And they center around the anointing. What Mary does, and how Judas reacts.
The first thing to pay attention to is the extravagance of the anointing. This is not a tiny dollop of oil placed on Jesus’ feet. It’s not a spa treatment. This is a ridiculous amount of perfume. It’s not a little vial, it’s a pound—a gigantic jug, worth…Judas says it’s worth 300 denarii—and one denarii was worth about a days wage, so…almost an entire year’s salary. So, federal minimum wage last year was $7.25 an hour, so imagine someone taking $15,000 worth of perfume, and pouring on some guy’s feet. Even in preparation for a burial it seems an absurd amount. But that’s the point…it’s minuscule compared to the abundance of God’s grace and love that Jesus demonstrates throughout his life…
At the wedding at Cana, he changes not a couple of bottles, but close to 180 gallons of water into wine.
Jesus takes a crowd into the wilderness and feeds not a handful, but 5,000.
He gets into a boat and tells Peter to let down his nets and it’s not just a few extra fish they get…but pounds, and pounds, and pounds of fish begin to swamp the boat.
And now, he’s about to get arrested, and tried, and nailed to a cross in order to demonstrate to those of us who still haven’t figured it out, that God’ grace and God’s love is not given out in dribs and drabs. It is is poured out by the bucketful.
Like the wine, like the food, like the fish, like Mary her perfume. Overwhelming abundance…is the mode of God’s love…So remember, no matter what “swift and varied changes” your world is subjected to…no matter what challenges you’re facing…God’s love and grace is exponentially greater than any of them.
In contrast, we have Judas. Mary’s simple act of care…Martha’s simple act of service…Lazarus’ simple presence demonstrate the overflowing truth and abundance of God’s grace, but Judas—alone—stands apart and speaks…
Judas speaks in the voice of reason…in the voice of practicality…in the voice of economic power (he controls the common purse)…in the voice of complicity with the domination system, and…John is clear to point out…Judas speaks in a voice that is false. On the surface, everything he says, makes perfect sense. But both his words and his inaction reveal the lie. Judas either can’t—or refuses to— see the abundance of grace…he only sees the scarcity of cash. He doesn’t see gifts…he only sees need…He doesn’t speak with courage from his values…he utters rationalizations out of fear.
Mary, and Martha, and Lazarus in this story are, as one of my teachers puts it, “models of the true believer living honestly, openly, and with courage. Judas, by contrast, belongs to the realm of lies” (Countryman, The Mystical Way in the Fourth Gospel: Crossing Over Into God p. 87).
So, I ask again, how is this Lent changing you? Where do you see the abundance of God’s difficult, challenging, and life-giving grace? How are you redeploying the gifts that have been lavished on you? Where are you experiencing the presence, the service, the life-changing—eye-opening…heart-opening love that can truly remake the world into God’s dream? Wherever you see it…lock in and press on towards that goal, because in this way we are made whole. Amen.