When Love Looks Ridiculous - Sermon w/Sunday Devotion

This week's sermon audio comes with a devotional that includes a few familiar parts of the Sunday liturgy, since we've had to postpone worship services for the time being. I hope this is meaningful for you while we are apart. Stay strong, stay connected, stay informed--as we learn new ways to be the church.

Inspired by Mark 14:1-9

Wow, we are already at Palm Sunday, the first day of Holy Week! Where has the time gone? Despite this pandemic, which sometimes seems to make time slow to a crawl, time still has a way of slipping past us. As I’ve mentioned on more than one occasion recently, reading the story of Palm Sunday today is a bit out of chronological order. As we’ve been reading through the Gospel of Mark, we’ve already past this point of Mark’s narrative a few weeks ago. So, my sermon will focus mainly on the story that I just read to you, rather than the events of Palm Sunday, which I think we have covered enough over the past few weeks, as we have been keeping it in mind as a foundational moment for all that has transpired afterward.

Today, we have come to chapter fourteen, and the story of the woman anointing Jesus. That means there’s only two more chapters left! Mark provides a bit of backdrop for this story. It’s kind of a behind the scenes look, a special feature if you will. Mark tells us that while this story of the woman anointing Jesus was going on, the chief priests and legal experts, aka the pharisees, were looking for just the right time to arrest and kill Jesus. They don’t just want to control him, or discredit him, they want him gone, for good, permanently. However, they were successful politicians as well, and they knew that the Passover festival was just two days away, the biggest festival of the Jewish year, and they didn’t want to create anything that would disturb that or they’d have a riot on their hands. All this is happening apart from the story that Mark shares of the woman anointing Jesus but important to know, especially because Mark is going to contrast it with the following scene. So let’s keep going.

Jesus continues to withdraw to those closest to him, and in this story, he’s in the house of one man. Houses were not very big in those days, especially for the everyday person, and so we are looking at a very intimate setting here. Still bigger than just the twelve disciples and the women but not by much. This Simon, in whose house they are in, has a skin disease, what older translations would call leprosy by default, but any kind of skin disease or irritation or rash would be classified as such. They didn’t take any chances with disease, and so any of these kinds of afflictions, no matter how small got you labeled as unclean, and at best meant you had to be quarantined until a priest could certify you as clean again; at worse, it meant a life of banishment outside the city gates. Like I said, they didn’t play when it came to disease.

So, odds are, this guy Simon, whom Jesus was visiting at his house, was under quarantine. Now that sounds familiar doesn’t it? And in typical Jesus fashion, he breaks the rules of quarantine, and goes to visit him anyway! This may be the one and only time you’ll ever hear me say, please don’t be like Jesus! Stay at home! To be fair, Jesus probably didn’t have Zoom or unlimited texting. So, aside from the fact that Jesus is once again, breaking all the rules, which as we’ve seen, is a pattern for Jesus, he finds himself in the home of Simon the quarantined, and some very interesting things happen while he is there.

by Julia Stankova
So, they’re all eating dinner there, and they’re probably not six feet apart from one another but what are ya gonna do? And out of the blue something extraordinary happens! A woman, who is not named, which is an element of the patriarchal nature of the society of that day, interrupts dinner, and begins to pour very expensive nard oil on his head! For those of you who don’t know what nard is, it’s essential oils! She pours essential oils on his head in the middle of dinner! Now, it’s hard for us to wrap our heads around the significance of this because we don’t really have a real-world example of this anymore, but we have things that are similar. One might be a toast. Imagine sitting at a dinner party, and someone out of the blue stands up, raises their glass, and gives a beautiful and honorific toast to one of the guests, and at the end of the toast, everyone drinks and applauds the now guest of honor. It was kinda, sorta like that, but that doesn’t’ even come close.

She was also proclaiming him as the messiah, the savior, the anointed one, with this gesture. This act of anointing was done to the kings of old, as well as to the prophets. Today, that might take the form of a coronation or an ordination. It was kinda, sorta, like those but still doesn’t come close. As a pastor, when someone is on the verge of death or has very recently died, I do to the person and pray some very specific prayers to commend that person into the hands of God. This was also kinda, sorta like that, but again, it doesn’t come close. What might come close is if we combine all of those into this one act. When she poured those essential oils on his head, it was like a toast and a coronation and an ordination and a prayer of commendation, all rolled into one! That is the closest thing I can describe to you, to express just how significant this one act was.

I also have to pause here and point out that once again, an extraordinary act was committed by a woman. Knowing the patriarchal society that they lived in, which is just a fancy way of calling out the abusive sexism built into their system, this fact cannot be overstated. Mark has already shared with us extraordinary women such as the woman who touches Jesus’ robe to be healed in spite of her own quarantined status, the bold Syrophoenician woman who called out Jesus for referring to her as a dog, the poor widow who gives the last of her money to the temple treasury for the good of the people. And we haven’t’ seen the last of the extraordinary women that Mark wants to share with us! It’s almost as if Mark is pointing out that it was the women in Jesus' life that were driving this story forward! I’m imagining all you women out there listening collectively saying, “Well, duh!” Jesus goes so far as to say, that whenever his story is shared throughout the world for all time, they will also hear about what this woman has done. Jesus, doesn’t say that about anyone else.

But let’s keep going. Not everyone thought this was very extraordinary. In fact, they thought it was wasteful, they thought it was selfish, they thought it was a poor use of resources, that they thought it was downright ridiculous. And you know what, it’s hard to say they were wrong! No matter their motives, especially because I’m thinking this was his own followers that were saying this, it’s hard to disagree with them! Unless you’re Jesus. He tells them to leave her alone. He tells them that there will be time to serve the poor, but there won’t be time to do what she has taken it upon herself to do, to proclaim him as the honored guest, as king, as messiah, as priest, as lamb to the slaughter, as savior. And to those looking on, that’s just ridiculous!

Love often looks that way doesn’t it. Sometimes love just looks ridiculous. For instance, who would ever think that sequestering yourself at home, staying away from other people, would look like love? And yet, here we are, doing just that, not because we’re done with the world or because we’re feeling anti-social, or if you’re like me and we’re allowing our inner introvert to run wild, no it’s none of those things is it. It’s because this is how we are being called to love one another right now, as ridiculous as it may look, this is what love looks like. Keeping people safe, keeping people healthy, giving doctors time to tend to the most vulnerable, we’d all agree that those things are what love looks like, we just never imagined it would mean putting ourselves in quarantine. A few months ago, we would have scoffed at such a ridiculous notion!

There are so many other ways that love can look ridiculous. This week, the most holy of weeks, I encourage you to ponder the many ways that love looks ridiculous in your life. Maybe it’s while you're on your knees washing the bathtub for the umpteenth time because no one else wants to do it, even though you know they can; or cooking dinner after working a ten-hour shift when everyone else at home has just been sitting there; or playing piano to a virtual audience; or calling people you’ve never met before to check on them; I could go on with all the ways that I see how ridiculous love can look but I encourage you to think of some of your own, and while you do, thank God for how ridiculous love can look. Amen.

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