By Rev. Heather Blais, Rector
Have you experienced God? Have you been so transformed by God that people want to ask about your life? These are two of the questions that Frank Powell challenges us to think about when talking about apathy as one of the 9 Sins the Church is Okay With. He reminds us that if we have truly experienced God, then everything has changed for us. Everything.
Yet as Powell says, the attitude is often, “Okay, God loves me. That’s great. What’s for lunch?” If that is where we find our relationship with God, than our apathy might be causing us to miss out on a truly transformative relationship with God. Powell reminds us that, “Apathy’s best friends are passivity and entitlement. Together, they’re a vicious threesome. There’s nothing mediocre or normal about God. His power is beyond comprehension. His beauty is beyond description. His love is beyond measure. The same God who created the universe and formed stars desires a relationship with you.”
So, I’ll ask again--have you experienced God?
In today’s gospel lesson we meet two followers of Jesus who have both experienced God firsthand. Judas and Mary. Yet while one of them has become apathetic to God, the other has been forever transformed and shows it in the way she lives her life.
The gospel lesson begins by reminding us that Passover is only six short days away. For those of us that know how the story plays out, it is a stark reminder of all that is about to happen; of darkness and death, and then... glorious resurrection. We find Jesus stopping to rest at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Jesus had a very close relationship with this particular family. Only just recently Lazarus had suddenly become ill and died. Yet Jesus becomes so deeply moved by Mary and Martha’s grief, that he raises Lazarus from the dead. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus are forever changed by this encounter with the living God.
Their home becomes a place of retreat for Jesus; a place where he could fully prepare for what was about to come. They gave a dinner for him, and probably around when dinner was ending, Mary took a pound of perfume, anointed Jesus’ feet, and then wiped his feet with her hair. This intimate act of service was a loving preparation of his body for burial, which somehow, in her heart of hearts, Mary must have known was coming. This loving gift cost a small fortune. The perfume cost as much as the annual salary of a day laborer. For Mary, this was a final gift to the One who changed her life forever.
Mary’s gift was so humbly offered, so intimately given that we might imagine the room went silent. Not so. Judas couldn’t keep silent. Like the socially awkward guest at the dinner table, he interrupts to challenge Mary, “Why was this perfume not sold and the money given to the poor?” (John 12:5).
While the question might seem innocent enough, it has less to do with Judas’ concern for the poor, and more to do with his own ego. Somewhere along the way, Judas’ heart had hardened. Judas became apathetic to the fact that he was literally in service to the living God. His apathy will become one of the major contributing factors when considering how Judas could ever betray Jesus to death. Jesus makes it clear which person is on the right path, which person has been changed by a relationship with the Living God. Jesus tells Judas-- “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial” (John 12:7).
By the way, that next thing Jesus says; the thing the church has been bickering about for the last two thousand year, “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me,” is actually a poor translation and misunderstanding of what Jesus is actually saying (John 12:8). Jesus is referring to a piece of scripture that would have been familiar to those present at dinner: Deuteronomy 15. This chapter lifts up the Jubilee--a practice where every twenty years people are forgiven their debts. The Israelites are told, “...there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today” (Deuteronomy 15:4-5).
The teaching on Jubilee concludes with the whole verse Jesus is referring to in today's Gospel, “There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land” (Deuteronomy 15:11). Jesus is not excusing Mary’s generous gift at the sake of the poor, but rather reminding Judas of the work left to do for the sake of those living in poverty. He was calling Judas out on his own apathetic approach to the poor.
Just like Judas and Mary, we have a choice to make. Will we be like Judas, and hide behind our own ego and desires, remaining apathetic to the Living God? Or will we dare we be like Mary, and let ourselves be vulnerable and present enough to the Living God to be forever changed?
I asked you twice at the beginning, and I’ll ask you once more now: Have you experienced God? Have you been so transformed by God that people want to ask about your life? Amen.
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