This is the day to sing Hosanna. To sing: Save us, now! Save, we pray! Save us, King Jesus!
If you would have been among the crowd at that procession, when Jesus was entering Jerusalem for the last time, what would you have been shouting? Would it have been, Hosanna! Save now! Or maybe something more practical – turn around, Jesus! Find another way. Don’t get any closer to them – they’ll kill you.
Or wait. That’s not quite right. That’s not right at all. Don’t to get any closer to us, to me. Or I’ll kill you. There’s the rub. Jesus didn’t die for their sins, whoever they are. He died for ours – yours and mine. So we are tempted to tell Jesus to turn around, and we’re in good company, with Peter and the disciples, saying, it doesn’t have to be this way, Jesus.
But it does. This is the day to sing Hosanna. Save now! Save us, we pray. We need saving. A common song for many churches to sing on this day is Ride on, King Jesus…
And I didn’t understand, for a long while, why anyone would want to sing that. Rather, turn around Jesus. Turn back. Find another way. As if we know better than God what we need.
But there’s good news – that it doesn’t matter what we say, our level of devotion, or the sincerity of our faith, today or ever. It doesn’t matter what we’ve done or left undone. God will go to whatever lengths necessary, whatever depths necessary, to save us.
I invite you to come and experience God’s reckless abandon love for you this week, in hearing this full story, Thursday and Friday night, and Sunday morning. Not because you’re trying to be a good person, even though you might be trying. Not because you owe it to God or your church or to me.
But because in seeing the depth of God’s love for you, as deep as the cross, and God’s love for your neighbor, your friends, your family, and your enemies, there’s a promise, a hope, inspired by the Spirit, that we’ll learn to love ourselves and one another with that same sacrificial resurrection love.
This is the day to sing Hosanna. Ride on, King Jesus. Because you are our only hope. Amen.
John 12: 1-8
In a situation of false and mixed motives, Jesus cuts to the heart and can see through to the true heart of our nature, granting life in the midst.
You will always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. It’s long been one of my least favorite verses in scripture, and here it is this week, front and center. I don’t like it because it sounds so flip. You could say it in response to any request to help people living in poverty to justify doing something else instead. Hey, you wanna come with us to Arby’s. No, I can’t. I’m going to serve at the soup kitchen. Oh, well, skip it. You know, Jesus say – you always have the poor with you. You never know about Arby’s.
And it gets used like that, but only much worse. To justify not solving poverty. To justify not going far enough in local mission projects or public assistance or national legislation to provide a lift out of poverty for so many who are there because of circumstances entirely out of their hands. Because of crushing debt from healthcare expenses and no coverage. Because of graduating from college on the cusp of a great recession and never regaining financial strength. Because of being born into a cycle of poverty that’s existed for generations and no one cares enough to help it, or stop it, or change its direction.
So that can’t be what it means. Right? Jesus who tells us in Matthew 25 that when we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the sick, we are doing so to his very self, that when we minister to the least of these, we minister to Jesus, cannot be saying, you know, just care about the poor next time. So, what’s really going on in this text?
A lot, for a short 8 verse story. Lazarus has just been raised from the dead, and he’s here at the dinner-party with Jesus, so this could be the first scene of a Zombie Apocalypse. But I don’t think it is. But there’s a dead man at the table eating – or one who was recently dead, and may even still smell dead. So that’s going on, and is very present, and very real in people’s minds.
So this might be an olfactory story, a story of smells. Hilde has a book called snouts and sniffers – this might be right there with it. The death smell of Lazarus sitting at the table coupled with this beautiful smell of the perfume that Mary is pouring onto Jesus’ feet.
And then, coupled with that, a sort of pre-death smell encircling Jesus. We’re nearing Passover, and that means, Jesus was only six days away from being crucified. He’s well on his way to Jerusalem here, to Jerusalem and to the cross.
And that brings us back to the oil that Mary is using – this expensive nard. There would have been two reasons to anoint someone with oil back in the day. Well, maybe more than that, but two primary reasons.
- Kings were anointed. So in the Old Testaent, Kings are called Masshiach, or Messiah, which means, oil ones. To signify kingship, they were anointed.
- And, bodies were anointed at the time of burial It was largely a practical matter because of the smell, since there was no embalming.
So, if you were reading this like a novel, which is sometimes fun with scripture, you might ask: what’s the meaning here. Well, it’s a double-meaning. Jesus is King. And Jesus is nearing death. So Mary has a lot of reasons to be anointing him, particularly his feet, because Jesus’s feet are voluntarily carrying him to Jerusalem, which will be the place of his trial and death.
All of that is going on in and behind these short 8 verses of scripture, which places even more importance on those words that Jesus says that I find most troubling: you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me. As if to say, they can wait. Or maybe Jesus, like John lets us know – already knows that Judas really doesn’t care about the poor – he wants the oil converted in coins that he can then steal from the common purse, as is his pattern.
But maybe there’s something else going on here. Maybe, just maybe, as Jesus is looking around the dinner table, he sees Mary, and Martha, and Lazarus. Because of the fact that they have a dinner table, and because they have this oil, the evidence points to the fact that they may be people of some means, rather wealthy. So Jesus looks at them, and then he looks at himself, and the disciples who are with him.
Jesus and the disciples, from what we know, or think, are not people of many means. They kind of go from place to place and depend on people of means.
And he knows he’s not going to be there in the same way for much longer – I think he knows he’s always going to be there. He will be raised from the dead. But not quite in the same fleshy way.
So maybe, his concern is different than it appears. He’s concerned about Mary and Martha and Lazarus continuing to interact with people like him and the disciples. So a short bird-walk into grammarland. The phrase: you always have the poor with you is in the present tense indicative. Right. It’s present tense, like it’s now. Not future. Not past. And it’s indicative, because it just indicates something. It’s a statement of face.
Now, and here’s where it gets exciting - there’s precedent for the Greek present tense indicative to have meaning more like the imperative. So then, it would read more like: Keep the poor with you – I won’t always be here, or Remain with the poor always, I won’t always be here. I find that much more in keeping with how Jesus lived – he had relationships with rich, poor, and everyone in the middle.
And, it’s in keeping with the Deuteronomy text that I believe Jesus was thinking of when he said this, which we read in our first reading, where it says: Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.’” God gives the people a very direct command to be in relationship, and in giving relationship, with the poor in the promised land they are about to occupy.
And make no mistake – what Jesus is saying here is very different what Judas is requesting. Judas is feigning interest in the poor by saying – we should give the poor money. Jesus is saying – remain with the poor always. Keep the poor near to you. Be in relationship with everybody. Not – give the poor money, and then have nothing to do with them.
No. Be in relationship, and open your hand to all who are in any need. An open hand is always ready to give, and to receive, because it’s never a one-way street.
Remain with the poor, always. In our current culture, which sort of walls itself off from people of different cultures, different income levels, different political persuasions, I think Jesus is talking directly to us, especially those of us who always know where the next meal will come from and don’t debate whether the pay the mortgage or buy groceries. Remain with the poor, always. Not just give money. Not just remember the poor. Not just pray for them or think about the poor.
Jesus calls us out of our interest-group bubbles. Out of our neighborhoods. Out of our facebook friend groups. To encounter people who are different from us.
Be in relationship with the poor. Know the poverty of the world. Live among them. Even in our humble church, here in Lake Elmo, there are ways to serve among the poor, with the poor. Coming up again at Hope for the Journey Home in Oakdale in May, you can sign up for a dinner shift, to serve the homeless families who are living there, or for an overnight shift. Giving of your whole self for God’s kingdom.
At Valley Outreach, another way to serve among the poor. The family we’re mentoring through the St. Croix Valley Family Resource Center – another way we’re remaining with and serving among the poor.
According to Jesus, this isn’t just feel-good stuff that helps people. This is Holy Work. He equates it to being in his very presence. But if this scripture tells us anything, it tells us that Jesus cares about our motives. And so, if we’re serving our neighbor because we think we’ll get closer to Jesus, that’s probably not the best motive.
But when we admit that. When we open our hearts. When we just come clean and say: Jesus. I don’t know. My motives are often suspect. I want to do good. But sometimes I wake up and I just want to eat pizza in front of the TV. So give me motivation, and reveal yourself to me.
Jesus knows our heart already, and cares about our motivation. And when we ask Jesus to help us see him, no matter our motivation, we’ll be pleasantly surprised in the places he shows up. Amen.