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A Time to Save and a Time to Spend

Here is the sermon from our Priest in Charge, The Rev. Dr. Susan Carter, for the fifth Sunday of Lent.

Lent V - Year C

Isaiah 43:16-21

Psalm 126

Philippians 3:4b-14

John 12:1-8

A Time to Save and a Time to Spend

He was back home with friends.

Jesus was in Bethany.

It was six days before the beginning of Passover. It is the feast commemorating the escape of the Hebrews from Egypt – led away by Moses from generations of captivity.

Moses had rescued the people from Pharaoh guided them into the desert and long years there. Those had been hard times.

But Passover – that was something to celebrate.

He was there, relaxing with friends, really his best friends, including Lazarus and Mary and Martha.

They were in Bethany, some two miles southeast of the walls of Jerusalem, just on the eastern hillside of the Mount of Olives. On the hillside there were those wonderful trees.

Bethany was where Jesus had called his dear friend Lazarus out of the tomb. He had brought him from death back to life.

Jesus, and Jesus alone, understood the significance of that event. It was a harbinger for him, a preview of what was to come.

His own death – and then his own resurrection.

But that was still days away.

Right now, there was a party going on. The three hosts – a Lazarus, Mary, and Martha – had decided to have a feast to celebrate Lazarus’ remarkable return to life.

Martha, of course, prepared the dinner and served it.

Mary found her own way to commemorate her brother’s return.

Always a bit exuberant, and some may have thought a little over-the-top, she grabbed a bottle of very expensive perfume.

It was the kind that was used to prepare bodies for burial.

She poured it – the whole bottle! – over Jesus’ feet. Then Mary wiped his feet, not with a towel, but with her hair.

Judas Iscariot, the treasurer for the disciples, was outraged.

“You just dumped a whole bottle of perfume on his feet!” he yelled at her.

“It would take me a year, slaving away every day, to pay for that. The money you wasted could have gone to the poor.”

Irene Msini just sat there staring at the menu, and at the prices.

She and I, along with her husband, Fr. Justice Msini, and two others were out to dinner at one of the best restaurants in Blantyre, Malawi.

We had just spent five days shooting a documentary on children with malaria in the exceedingly poor country, and we were ready to celebrate.

There was excellent food to be had, from appetizers to delicious desserts, and fine wine to accompany the meal.

But the prices. The prices.

What the meal for five would cost that evening could cover her daughter’s tuition in the local private school for a semester.

A whole semester.

Irene could not help but stare, and worry. This money could be put to better use. Surely this was not the best way to spend a semester’s worth of tuition.

Jesus patiently waited as Mary continued to wipe his feet with her hair. He listened as Judas fumed over the money the perfume cost, knowing all the while that Judas was embezzling from the disciples’ funds.

But he set that aside. The time for Judas’ reckoning would come later.

Finally, however, Jesus had had enough. “Leave her alone. It was her money. She bought the perfume. She got it to keep for my burial.

“Frankly,” he added, “it is her choice to do with it as she wants.”

Jesus took in a breath, knowing what was to happen during the next week.

“Listen, Judas,” he continued. “I’m not always going to be around. I have told you all that. And to the extent that you listened, some of you heard it. There will be plenty of work to do once I am gone.”

Jesus stopped for a minute, then added: there will always be need, there will always be poor people to help, but you won’t always have me.

Seeing Irene’s distress, I put the menu down on the table. “There is a time to save, and a time to spend,” I said.

“Remember, Jesus reminded his disciples of that when Mary took the whole pound of perfume, of very costly nard, and anointed his feet and wiped them with her hair.”

Irene, knowing her Bible as well as any of us, relaxed.

And so it was that the five of us had a lovely dinner and great and convivial conversation.

It was a treasure of friendship yielding a night that Fr. Justice said he would remember for many years.

Not just in Lent, but sometimes throughout the entire liturgical year, it is too easy for us to forget that we were made by God for God’s happiness and pleasure.

A deep theological understanding of creation takes us to such a celebration ourselves.

Not wanton or reckless, and not pleasure that separates from the love of God – for that truly is sin – rather, a bliss-filled expression of God’s presence in the world.

In God’s love for us, we are expected use our gifts wisely, but nonetheless to use them.

It is all right to employ our resources with care, and not to be excessive with them. There is no joy in hoarding.

Jesus, celebrating there in Bethany, understood that there would always be need.

He also lets us know – today – that the sharing of God’s gifts, including God’s own son, honors the one who created us.


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