7 April 2019: The Power of Complete Generosity + Complete Humility

7 April 2019: The Power of Complete Generosity + Complete Humility

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The awkwardness of receiving things

 

This is a very raw display of emotion, something quite odd in many ways… Something that would have made others uncomfortable…

Looking at the Passage

John 12:1–2 GNB

1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus went to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, the man he had raised from death.

2 They prepared a dinner for him there, which Martha helped to serve; Lazarus was one of those who were sitting at the table with Jesus.

Just a few verses earlier, we hear that Lazarus had been raised from the dead by Jesus… These people he is having dinner with aren’t just casual fans… We are told that Lazarus, Mary, Martha are siblings and we are earlier told that Lazarus was a friend…

John 12:3–5 GNB

3 Then Mary took half a litre of a very expensive perfume made of pure nard, poured it on Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The sweet smell of the perfume filled the whole house.

4 One of Jesus’ disciples, Judas Iscariot—the one who was going to betray him—said,

5 “Why wasn’t this perfume sold for three hundred silver coins and the money given to the poor?”

What we have just heard is one of those things that everyone there would have remembered, something that would have been really uncomfortable for everyone who was there to see and be part of… This is an extremely wasteful display and they all knew it…  This stuff that Mary is pouring out on Jesus feet isn’t just a little bit expensive… It is approximately a year’s wages… (Median income for Qld, after tax, lets say it was worth $50,000) Wasn’t even used “properly”, anointing his head in celebration, it wasn’t something he got to keep, but was poured out, used up.

Then Mary took a $50,000 bottle of perfume, poured it on Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair…

I think that if we were in that room, we would have found ourselves thinking something similar to what Judas said, we would have be waiting for Jesus to condemn this waste, even if we didn’t say it out loud…

John 12:6–8 GNB

6 He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief. He carried the money bag and would help himself from it.

7 But Jesus said, “Leave her alone! Let her keep what she has for the day of my burial.

8 You will always have poor people with you, but you will not always have me.”

As we look at this account on our journey towards Easter, a two key questions stood out to me.

How do we use the best that we have to offer?

When we look at this account, we see that Mary offered the very best that she had, absurd generosity, but not in a way that would elevate her… This wasn’t an instance of splashing money around to impress people… It was quite the opposite… Everything about this act of pouring out this expensive perfume on Jesus was her taking the lowliest place possible. She started by anointing his feet, not his head, taking on the roll of a servant, a slave. She continued through to letting her hair down to clean it up, remembering that letting their hair down, at all, was something that Jewish women simply didn’t do in public.

This was an extremely generous display, but one that was carried out with absolute humility, absolute devotion and directed solely towards Jesus, her lord. This wasn’t something that would impress anyone, something that would have been embarrassing for people to even watch. I think it’s fair to say that we catch a glimpse of in the response from Judas. The thing is, that it was through this act of humble generosity that something of Jesus’ identity was revealed. Even if she wasn’t fully aware of it, this act bore witness to a profound truth of what God was doing that no-one else had really grasped. It was a powerful, revelatory act.

The thing is, I don’t think this kind of act is just about giving something of high dollar value. I think that the way we offer the best that we have, our money, our time, or gifts and abilities, are all things that can be informed by passages like this one.

I think the question of how we offer of ourselves to God is an important one, particularly one to consider as we approach Easter. Are there times when we are more concerned with impressing those around us, wanting to be seen as good or generous because of what we do or what we give? Are there times when we withhold our generosity because we are worried about what other people with think, because we are worried that perhaps we will be seen as foolish. For me the question boils down to whether we are prepared to offer something to God for its own sake, rather than for the recognition or good feelings we might get, or perhaps the feelings of guilt that it may cover up for a bit…

What if the most important, powerful and transformative acts of generosity don’t happen in ways that grand, public and impressive. But happen through situations that are awkward, ambiguous and raw. Situations where we may not even grasp their significance at the time, but through which people can see something real about the God who we trust, serve and embody.

Who get the best of what we have?

The other question that sticks with me as I look at this account is around “Who gets the best of what we have?” We live in a world where there are an unlimited number of causes all vying for our attention, our money, our time. The thing is, I think that the need is so great and the options are so vast, that it can be easy to just not choose and end up doing nothing. I think this can happen in a few ways.

Firstly, I would suggest that this passage reminds us that responding to to showing compassion to people or situations right in front of us isn’t at all incompatible with a broader commitments to justice charity. Our generosity isn’t a simple either/or question, of whether we give to God or the poor, but really something that should where we understand that we are called to give to both God and the poor. Mary offering this extremely generous gift to Jesus wasn’t something that meant she didn’t owe any obligation to the poor in the same way that any Jew making an offering at the temple didn’t get them off the hook to show generosity to the poor in their community.

When Jesus says “The poor will always be with you” this isn’t a justification for wealth and waste… It also isn’t a justification for accepting that poor people will always exist and doing nothing… It is really just a summary of a passage from Deuteronomy, something that any good Jew would know well.

Deuteronomy 15:11 GNB

11 There will always be some Israelites who are poor and in need, and so I command you to be generous to them.

As we journey through Lent, now is a good time to evaluate how generous we are with what we have.

Secondly, if you are anything like me, we can always come up with reasons not to be generous what we have in service of God, especially when it involves giving or supporting people we will never meet, or situations we still don’t know how to fix. These reasons might even sounds like good ones, you might even be able to spin it to yourself as a spiritual sounding one…

The thing is that I think that sometimes, even when an opportunity to be generous, to offer support, help, even money opportunity presents us itself to us in a person, a family, a local situation,  we can still be pretty good at coming up with reasons not to be generous. We can make a deal with ourselves that at some future time, we will be generous in a way that will “make a real difference”, so that we will feel OK to ignore the person right in front of us. (Even if we later forget about it)

John 12:6 GNB

6 He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief. He carried the money bag and would help himself from it.

The outcome of both of these is the same, we can end up just keeping everything for ourselves, forgetting about generosity and letting ourselves off the hook while we are at it. When we look at the way that Judas’ objections to this act are described, we can see that his motives weren’t exactly selfless, a mindset that I think we can all fall pray too as well.

As we journey through Lent, now is a good time to evaluate how generous we are with what we have, and to be aware of the excuses might have made up that get in the way.

Finally, as part of God’s family, I think it is also important that we don’t lose sight of the spiritual dimension to things. As a community that seeks to embody the Kingom of God, we see that Jesus is the most important factor it the healing and renewal of all creation. Simply throwing money, technology and a bit of good vibes at things isn’t going to be enough to solve the deepest challenges of justice and poverty in our world.

The renewal of heart and mind that we experience within God’s family, as we seek to become more like Jesus, is something that can change the world. It is something worth applying ourselves to something that seeks to invite others into this process of renewal as well.

As we journey through Lent, now is a good time to evaluate how generous we are with what we have, to be aware of the excuses might have made up that get in the way and to be honest about what portion we offer to God.

Even though may not even grasp their significance at the time, opportunities to be generous present ways through which people can see something real about the God who we trust, serve and embody.

Speaker: Rev. Stephen Rothery

I am married to Shannan and we love life in the Redlands.

 

I love tinkering with technology, have spent waaaay too much time in on-line gaming and am an early adopter of virtual reality. (Currently rocking a HTC Vive at home and GearVR for mobile) Before coming into ministry my background was in Electrical Engineering/IT which meant I spent a lot of time working with information systems and automation in factories and industry around Queensland. All of this means that I am basically a huge nerd 🙂

 

In terms of faith, I am passionate about journeying with people as they seek to follow Jesus and understand what this looks like in their family/work/community. None of us are perfect, but through God\’s grace we can make a difference as together we seek to bring hope in places of despair, love to those who feel lost or ashamed and comfort to those who are hurting.