Jesus goes to visit his friends in Bethany, Martha, Mary, and their brother Lazarus. During dinner as Martha serves and Lazarus eats with Jesus, Mary comes in with expensive perfume. She pours the perfumeon Jesus’ feet and wipes his feet with her hair.
Judas (yeah, that one) complained that the perfume was worth a full year’s pay–saying that it should have been sold and the money given to the poor. The text then notes that Judas didn’t really care about the poor, but cared because he was a thief. He took care of the money for Jesus’ followers and stole from it.
Jesus answers that she has saved this perfume to prepare him for burial. He says, “You will always have those who are poor with you. But you will not always have me.”
Sometimes expressions of love can be embarrassing and extreme. Sometimes like Judas we want to turn away and disdain generous displays of love. Obviously, Jesus cares for the poor–that’s evident throughout his ministry. But at this moment a display of love and caring is appropriate and welcome. He had come to this family before and been a blessing to them. Now he has come in the need to be blessed before he goes to Jerusalem, where he will be sentenced to die.
Love generously. Love Jesus extremely while you also love those in need.
This week’s reading is one I wrote about when I used to prepare curriculum based on the lectionary for our church school, so I’m mostly using that here.
Most of us probably know the story of the prodigal son. I wasn’t even exactly sure what the word “prodigal” meant, in spite of my familiarity with this parable. Honestly, I’m sure most of us don’t use the word much except in the context of this particular story, either. I actually just looked it up and it didn’t even mean what I thought it meant. I thought it was something like “describing someone who deserts someone or something else and then comes back” but I guess that was just the influence of this parable. The real definition is: “Spending money or resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant.” So much for my degree in English.
So the story is that the younger son of a rich man decides he is not satisfied with life at home and he’s ready to go out on his own. Rather than seeking his own fortune, though, he goes to his father and asks for his inheritance early. His father is sad about it, but goes ahead and gives him the money. Can you imagine the nerve of this guy? Anyway, he takes the money and runs off to live on his own. He becomes quite the playboy and squanders all his inheritance away on partying and fast living. Next thing you know, he’s down and out and far from home. He ends up taking a job feeding some guy’s pigs and realizes he’s so poor and hungry that he’d be happy to be eating what the pigs are eating. Finally he realizes he’d be better off back home, even if he’s just a servant to his father, believing that’s all he can be since he wasted away the money and love his father gave him. So he returns home and as it turns out, his father is thrilled to see him, throws a big party for him, and welcomes him home. Meanwhile his older brother, who has stayed home and worked dutifully for his father, is angry that his wasteful, loser brother is getting all this affection and attention. The father tells him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” This older brother is sort of standing in for human beings in general–we don’t always understand God’s love for others; sometimes human beings try to deny that God loves everyone unconditionally. The father stands for God, whose love is above all we can imagine and who can forgive whatever bad things we do, but he is also an example of how we should strive to be. And of course the wasteful son represents us when we have done wrong things and need forgiveness.
People ask Jesus about a horrible event that had recently occurred–Pilate had Galilean worshippers killed with the added gruesome detail that their blood mixed with the blood of animals they brought for sacrifices. Jesus asks them if they think this happened because those people killed were more sinful than other Galileans. He says they weren’t and also asks about people who’d died when a tower fell on them. He says that they were not more sinful and that the listeners should think of that and change their own lives.
Here we have an age-old religious and philosophical question–are people punished for being sinful and why do bad things happen to good people. Jesus insists that those people weren’t killed because of their sin. We all know that bad consequences can come of bad actions, but also, sometimes bad things happen for no good reason. But Jesus also says not to be obsessing about those things but to instead be right with God ourselves, regardless. Do the right thing, no matter what comes. Love God, love your neighbor.
Some Pharisees warn Jesus that he should hide because Herod wants to kill him. He responds,
“Go tell that fox, ‘Today and tomorrow I am forcing demons out of people and finishing my work of healing. Then, the next day, the work will be finished.’ After that I must go, because all prophets should die in Jerusalem.”
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You kill the prophets. You stone to death the people God has sent to you. How many times I wanted to help your people. I wanted to gather them together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. But you did not let me. Now your home will be left completely empty. I tell you, you will not see me again until that time when you will say, ‘Welcome! God bless the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’[b”
First, I love that Jesus calls Herod a “fox”–meaning a cunning and sneaky creature who kills other animals. Second, I like the corresponding imagery of Jesus as a hen gathering chicks under her wings for protection, though he himself is in danger as a prophet. His great desire is to serve the poor and marginalized, to protect them from the foxes of the cruel domination system of his time, but that’s exactly why he was himself in danger from that domination system. And we must follow in his footsteps. Think of the great world changers of history–people like Ghandi and the Martin Luther King, Jr.–in defiance of the powers-that-be and with love for the downtrodden, they stood up for love and justice. They faced hardship and even death itself to change the world for the better. May we have the courage to do the same.
In this week’s Gospel reading, Jesus is fasting in the desert, where he is tempted by the devil for 40 days. Jesus of course resists every temptation–temptations for food, temptations for power, temptations to test God and make a dramatic spectacle.
This is an apt beginning to the 40 days of Lent, our own journey of sacrifice and resisting temptation–a time to prepare our hearts and grow in the love of God. Just as Jesus spent his time in prayer and preparation before beginning his ministry, we dwell in somber reflection and growth approaching Easter. Let us continue in that preparation.
I grew up in Evangelical churches where we were quoting John 3:16 all the time. It was everywhere. It was key to the whole gospel, central to everything. Yet how did I never know that this passage started out with a reference to that kind of weird time Moses lifted up a snake in the desert?
Moses lifted up the snake in the desert. It is the same with the Son of Man. He must be lifted up too.Then everyone who believes in him can have eternal life.
This is referring to a passage in Numbers, which naturally is our Old Testament reading for this Sunday. When the Israelites were dying from snake bites, God told Moses to put a brass snake on a pole for them to look at and be healed. It didn’t prevent the snakes from biting or drive off the snakes (no St. Patrick kind of thing), it just healed the bites they got. (See Numbers 21:4-9).
So Jesus is being compared to the snake life up on a pole. The snake is lifted up and when people look to it, they are healed. So the comparison says that Jesus will be lifted up (literally lifted up onto the cross and then lifted up in his resurrection) and people will look to him and be healed not from just snake bites but from death.
Deep Lent, as some call this time, is when we struggle with the darkness, and may not always find answers to why it is so pervasive. We cannot answer why evil seems so prevalent because we can’t readily see it in our own choices. So, asking to be part of the light will reveal what is hidden in our darkness, and most of us would prefer not to see. That is why self-examination and confession are rare and avoided by most of us. But we have strayed like lost sheep, we have followed too much the desires of our own hearts, to the point where, left on our own, we are truly lost.
And also this:
The only reason Jesus could go to the cross was because he dared to walk into the darkness. We have to do the same if we are going to follow him the rest of the Lenten journey. That means leaving a lot of things behind, including the world’s wisdom for how to live in the darkness by making everything pleasant for ourselves.
So let us look to the example of a loving Jesus on the cross as we await his death and resurrection during Lent. We will come through this darkness as he did and come to joy.
In this week’s passage, Jesus goes to Jerusalem. He creates a big scene in the temple there, overturning tables of the money traders, driving out people and animals, and cracking a whip (literally). It’s an amazing story about a Jesus usually seen as gentle and compassionate.
I really like what I read about this incident in The Last Week by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan. I highly recommend the book to anyone for a deep dive into Jesus’s final week in Jerusalem. Christians have often been taught that Jesus is objecting to the sellers and money changers themselves, though what they are doing is legitimate business that helps people purchase animals for sacrifice–it’s part of the rituals of the temple for people to achieve purification. They were probably very busy close to Passover. They point out that the phrase “den of robbers” (usually in the English translation) doesn’t mean a den where people are robbed, but rather where the robbers go to hide out after robbing. Jesus is condemning the temple in a different way–for it’s collaboration with the evil domination system and the injustice of the time rather than for the particular rituals being carried out at that moment. In fact, Jesus declares that if they tear down the temple, he will rebuild it in three days.
But the temple Jesus meant was his own body.After he was raised from death, his followers remembered that he had said this. So they believed the Scriptures, and they believed the words Jesus said.
This made me think about Christians today. Some of us collude with those who would oppress the marginalized and with racist and sexist systems. It’s disturbing to see Christians siding with cruel injustice instead of standing up for the oppressed. It’s something I will examine in my own motives and actions.
We really see the themes of Lent in today’s passage. Jesus is teaching his followers that he will suffer and will not be accepted by elite leaders and priests. He tells them he will die. But Peter doesn’t like this teaching and basically scolds Jesus for saying such things. Jesus responds, “Get away from me, Satan! You don’t care about the same things God does. You care only about things that people think are important.” Ouch. Peter is one of his most devoted followers, but even he does not understand–perhaps cannot understand until after Easter.
Then Jesus goes to call his followers to him and tells them:
Any of you who want to be my follower must stop thinking about yourself and what you want. You must be willing to carry the cross that is given to you for following me.Any of you who try to save the life you have will lose it. But you who give up your life for me and for the Good News will save it.It is worth nothing for you to have the whole world if you yourself are lost.You could never pay enough to buy back your life.
So we continue to observe Lent as a time of self-sacrifice, discovery, and heart preparation. We must be willing to carry the cross–meaning to give up ourselves and follow Jesus. What is getting in the way of our service to God and to others?
I like this thought from Conversations With Scripture: The Gospel of Mark by Marcus J. Borg:
The way of the cross is about life and death; to avoid it in order to save one’s life is to lose one’s life, and to embrace it is to save one’s life. The path of death is the path of life.
I love a good paradox and I love to let it speak for itself. Dwell on this paradox.
In this week’s passage, Jesus leaves his hometown of Nazareth and goes to see John the Baptist, who is already ministering in the wilderness. John baptizes Jesus in the Jordan River and as Jesus comes out of the water, he sees the sky open up. Then the Bible says the Spirit comes down like a dove and a voice from heaven says, “You are my Son, the one I love. I am very pleased with you.”
From there, the Spirit sends Jesus alone into the desert, where he spends 40 days and is tempted by Satan. But it also says angels come to help him.
Then after John is put in prison, Jesus goes to Galilee to share the Good News of God. He says, “The right time is now here. God’s kingdom is very near. Change your hearts and lives, and believe the Good News!”
This is a very succinct account that gets longer in other Gospels, but even with so little here, I see why it’s the reading on the first Sunday of Lent. As we begin our journey into the 40 days of Lent, a journey of sacrifice, dedication, preparation, and spiritual discovery, we read about the 40 days Jesus spent alone, tempted, and in prayer and preparation at the beginning of his ministry. I love Lent and I love the symbolism of the church year, traveling with Jesus from the anticipation of Advent to the joy of Christmas to the discovery of Epiphany to the reverence of Lent to the pain of Good Friday to the glory of Easter to the mystery of Pentecost. Let us go forth on our journey to change our hearts and lives, as Jesus asks us to do.
This week’s Gospel lesson is a pretty famous one. Before Jesus rose from the dead, he brought another man back from the dead, his dear friend named Lazarus.
The first part of the story is a little puzzling. Jesus receives a message from Lazarus’ sisters, Martha and Mary, telling him his beloved friend is ill. Jesus hears it and said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Continue reading →