Readings from Scripture (NRSV) Mark 14:1-11
It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him; for they said, “Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people.” While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. But some were there who said to one another in anger, “Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.” Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. When they heard it, they were greatly pleased, and promised to give him money. So he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.
Love Builds Up – Courage and Purpose
We know that we all have knowledge.
Knowledge makes people arrogant, but love builds people up.
If anyone thinks they know something, they don’t yet know as much as they should know. But if someone loves God, then they are known by God. (1 Corinthians 8)
Alexander Pope (a poet from 1700 years after these words from 1 Corinthians was written) agreed with Paul – that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. I’ve had to avoid corners of the internet over the last year, as I’m sure you have, as that little bit of knowledge about covid, masks, and vaccines has created dangerous quote-unquote experts who make arrogant claims costing people their lives. There’s a temptation with knowledge to make us feel like we’re in control, that we know what’s going to happen, that we understand everything. But people just don’t know what they don’t know. And really, knowing everything is not our purpose in life. We’re not to acquire knowledge in order that we puff ourselves up or arrogantly lord our wisdom and knowledge over one another, or to gather a disciples like followers on Twitter or Instagram. Our knowledge is like our love – it’s meant to build people up.
As Jesus enters Jerusalem –he knows what awaits him. More and more people began to talk and know about Jesus, and know of his miracles, that neither he nor we should be surprised at the outpouring of attention. Jesus was made for this moment, and for the Friday crucifixion to come. His earthly travels prepared him for death – there will be no chariots of fire coming to rescue him into the heavens. He is rooted in this earth, crucified by it and for it, otherwise his humanity wouldn’t matter. For if his humanity didn’t matter, he wouldn’t have used images of body and blood in the institution of the Last Supper. If creation and this earthy stuff didn’t matter then why did Jesus worry about baptism in a river, wine at a wedding, cursing a fig tree, or every one of his parables that featured things like sheep, coins, works, and vineyards.
This life, and all the good in it, and all the bad in it, was why Jesus was born. God in great wisdom knew that love could no more stand at a distance. God must bear an earthy love – as love touched wounds and offered healing, as love met at wells and offered grace, as love gathered people around table and offered life. Jesus’ love, and all the good it did, and all the bad it stirred up in the insecure, and the arrogant, was meant to build people up. However, it terrified the Roman elite and the Jewish leaders.
The Romans were worried about a revolt. They had a tenuous hold on their captives, somehow convincing them that they had it “good” being under the thumb of foreign rule. Any time the people gathered for a festival, guards would converge on Jerusalem to ensure that the people didn’t hear the stories of the Exodus at Passover and get any funny ideas about leaving or taking back what was theirs. The Romans worried about Jesus for exactly what happened in our Palm Sunday story… upon entering Jerusalem, the people cut branches just as they did for the Caesars, the Pilates, and all other self-appointed messiahs. The Roman grip on the people was waning. Their arrogance revealed their insecurities. If they didn’t move fast, they would lose it all.
The Jewish leaders were worried about a revolt. Many wilderness preachers challenged and changed the “official’’ teachings of the church, but not like Jesus. There was something different about his teachings. His miracles made them doubt their own faith and power. They worried about Jesus for exactly what happened in our Palm Sunday story…upon entering Jerusalem the people recognized that God was in their midst – outside of the temple, far away from the curtain that separated the holy of holies from the believers… here holiness was close enough to touch. The Jewish leaders’ desired to choose their own messiah, and their power to do so was waning. Their arrogance revealed their insecurities. If they didn’t move fast, they would lose it all.
Both groups didn’t know what they didn’t know. The little bit they understood made them dangerous. It’s no different than internet scientists who want the world to “wake up” to the myths of covid, or politicians turned physicians. That’s not love – it’s fear – and fear corrodes and destroys. Instead – Jesus’ love turned over the tables of religious and societal quote-unquote experts, destroying the systems of death built around faith and love, in order to create a system based in love.
Social change has a cost that is often paid with a life. When Martin Luther King Jr. questioned income disparity, why and how blacks were paid less than their white counterparts, he became an enemy of the state. So too when women challenge(d) accepted norms of their personhood, and same with those with differing gender expressions, or those who love outside of what society has decided is the “norm.” Social change – as people all throughout history have reminded us, is threatening to some and welcomed by others – but always, always, we must err on the side of the love.
As in this final week of Love Builds Up – it says purpose can give our lives meaning…but it can also be heavy. We were created to love, though everywhere we turn we realize loving this world has a cost. It costs us our lives when we’re trying to build this world up. It costs us our money – we send over $30,000 elsewhere in our world, through our Mission and Service fund because we believe that the minor inconveniences of us being without that money, builds up the lives of others in our world. Or the extra grocery costs for all those able to support the Food Bank this month. It costs us our time – I can’t begin to count the number of volunteer hours that have been invested in our church, or our community, over the years – those who have heard speakers from Meals on Wheels and oneRoof and Anselma House who have then turned around to volunteer with these important groups. Costly love inspires costly love. When one person does it, others have the courage to do the same. By Christ’s example, may we have the courage to carry our own crosses on our journey of demonstrating love to this world.
For this heavy and life-giving purpose of love is not for the fainthearted. We walk to Good Friday knowing where it leads: the stories and the pain that we are going to feel. For on this the holiest of weeks, we are called to begin our journey to where love leads, at the foot of the cross to watch the suffering love directed not just at friends and followers, but for the sake of the world.
Love is our religion, love is the way. For we look at the cross and we look at Jesus see not just him, but all those suffering around him. For love has a cost…because there’s no other way to build up this world, then through our love.