March 13, 2016, The Quiet Radical – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
Below is an outline version of the sermon. To listen to it, click here: 120721_001
There’s always THAT kid in every group – exuberance – that seems to be what Mary of Bethany was like. (not Mary the mother of Jesus, or Mary Magdalene, but Mary of Mary and Martha, sister of Lazarus who was raised from the dead.)
It was six days before Passover that Mary performed her exuberant act of worship and love.
There is Biblical precedent for exuberant worship – David, the man after God’s own heart. When the ark of the covenant was carried into Jerusalem, he, the King of Israel, “danced before the Lord with all his might” And the Scripture says that when Michal, his wife, saw David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she was filled with contempt for him.
And then there’s Peter – Peter, the man upon whom Jesus chose to establish his church was all exuberance, always wholehearted, never dignified – after the Resurrection, when John recognized Jesus on the shore, Peter jumped into the water and swam to greet him even though they were in the middle of hauling in the biggest catch of fish ever.
And the exuberant Mary of Bethany is also our example. When we talk about the story of Mary and Martha,we usually think of her as just the quiet, passive one, but actually, every time we see her she is defying convention. Sat at Jesus’ feet, when everything in the culture expected her to bustle around getting dinner. Let her hair down in the presence of many men, and she went out and bought this incredibly expensive perfume (why? How?)…
Nard, also called spikenard, is a flowering plant of the Valerian family that grows in the Himalayas of Nepal, China, and India. Rhizomes (underground stems) can be crushed and distilled into an intensely aromatic amber-colored essential oil, which is very thick in consistency. Nard oil is used as a perfume, an incense, a sedative,… In Rome, it was the main ingredient of the perfume nardinum which was part of the Ketoret used when referring to the consecrated incense described in the Hebrew Bible and Talmud.
Judas very reasonably wonders why such valuable stuff wasn’t sold to benefit the poor – since it was worth as much as an entire year’s wages. (a denarius was a day’s wage, so 300 denarii means about a year’s salary) Average annual salary for farm worker in the U.S. is about $16,000 – so the relative value of Mary’s jar of ointment might have been around that amount.
…., but instead, she used it to wash Jesus’ feet, and dried them with her own hair.
Four days later, just two days before the Passover and the day of Jesus’ arrest, at a dinner at the home of Simon, who used to be a leper, she broke the jar of ointment, and poured out all the rest of the perfume on Jesus’ head,. (wonderful dinner parties with people who had been healed of leprosy and raised from the dead!) – people were offended all over again by her wastefulness and extravagance. Mark says they scolded her harshly – not just Judas, but several people who were at the table with Jesus. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. she has done a beautiful thing to me. ..In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial.”
“I tell you the truth,” he said, “wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman’s deed will be remembered and discussed.”
Episcopalians like to worship in sensible and dignified ways. But Mary reminds us that worship is love, and love is not a sensible or dignified thing. Love isn’t measured or careful. Love doesn’t hold back. That doesn’t mean that worship has to be loud or rambunctious or it isn’t genuine worship. – Mary wasn’t loud or rambunctious, she was quiet, but she was absolutely whole-hearted, holding nothing back, not worrying about her reputation or what people expected of her. But what Jesus told Martha, when she was complaining to him, saying, “Tell that sister of mine to help get this meal on the table!” was – “Martha, you are anxious about so many things, but only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good part, and it won’t be taken from her.
Can you even think how radical a thing that was; how radical a person this quiet Mary of Bethany was – for a woman, in a time and place when the role of women was very narrowly circumscribed, to put herself in the traditional male place of student at Jesus’ feet (men sat around to learn from the Rabbis, not women!), for her to wear her hair loose in public without shame, for her to buy this exotic perfume, something of immense value, and then pour it out in an exuberant and extravagant display of love. Of all people in the Bible, Mary seems to have understood that the one thing that is necessary is to love God with all her heart and all her soul and all her mind and all her strength. And for all that we try to do and be and accomplish and satisfy, Mary reminds us that there is really no other thing that we need to do than to love – exuberantly, fearlessly, holding nothing back: to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength.