Sermon Notes, 13th Sunday after Trinity, 11 September 20122 Anno Domini, the Anglican Orthodox Communion Worldwide
The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity.
ALMIGHTY and merciful God, of whose only gift it cometh that thy faithful people do unto thee true and laudable service; Grant, we beseech thee, that we may so faithfully serve thee in this life, that we fail not finally
to attain thy heavenly promises; through the merits of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
6 Now when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper, 7 There came unto him a woman having an alabaster box of very precious ointment, and poured it on his head, as he sat at meat. 8 But when his disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, To what purpose is this waste? 9 For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor. 10 When Jesus understood it, he said unto them, Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me. 11 For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always. 12 For in that she hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial. 13 Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her.
14 Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went unto the chief priests, 15 And said unto them, What will ye give me, and I will deliver him unto you? And they covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver. 16 And from that time he sought opportunity to betray him. Matt 26:6-16 (KJV)
I believe it will prove profitable for us to examine the Collect for today in a particular light of the Gospel Text for which it sets the tone and atmosphere. The greater impact of this Collect is its very first sentence of pleading: “ALMIGHTY and merciful God, of whose only gift it cometh that thy faithful people do unto thee true and laudable service.” Contrary to the prideful thinking of men, our favor with God does not arise from any good work performed on our part by might and main; but, rather, from the inspiration and strength given us by God our Father to, first, know to do good works; and, second, to have the ability to follow through with the execution of them. Our good works, in this way, are not ours; but redound to the glory of the Lord who inspires, empowers, and provides us the physical and spiritual capacity to see the matter through to its conclusion. These works of those who act with the imputed righteousness of Christ are works which belong solely to Him, else they are not GOOD. They are, by all means, performed “through the merits of Jesus Christ our Lord.”
In common society, and even in criminal law, the thoughts of a person in performing an act (good or bad) is paramount to ascribing reward or punishment. In law, it is called MOTIVE. If the motive in performance of any act is love, there can truly be no guilt of sin or crime.
Several years back I wrote a study on the Ten Commandments, and how there are two Tables upon which those commandments are written – the first five reference our duty to God. The fifth is a transition Commandment which relates both to our Father in Heaven and our fathers on earth. The last five relate solely to our duty to each other. It is for this reason that our Lord summarized the Commandments thusly, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Matt 22:37-40 (KJV)
The Summary of the Law given here by our Lord was not a new concept in God’s Word. That summary comes from the Old Testament. In this way, our Lord summarized the two Tables of the Law. If we keep that first Commandment, we cannot fail to keep the second. It is LOVE OF GOD that enables us to be accounted righteous – not our mere deeds under the sun. Of course, good works are the fruit of God’s sovereign grace in the lives of the saints, but “we are saved by grace through faith – not of works lest any man should boast.”
There are three Gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, and John) of today’s text, each offering the same meaning with different shadows of detail for our enlightenment. I will primarily use the Gospel of St. John today as a parallel text since it gives a sharper distinction of love – John being the Apostle of Love.
Jesus, just days prior to today’s text, had called a very dead Lazarus from the stone-cold tomb at Bethany. Lazarus was the brother of Martha and Mary, a family for whom Jesus held a particular love. I say it was just days since that resurrection of Lazarus, we are told, occurred just days before the Passover.
Now, our Lord is invited to the house of Simon the Leper for supper according to Matthew’s Gospel. John adds that Martha, as usual, served. Martha was always busy doing important tasks, and that is good. But often one can become so very absorbed in a task that the reason for doing it is forgotten. Mary, on the other hand, was more reflective and preferred the more profound joy of always being at the feet of our Lord to grasp every word and truth that fell from His lips. (see Luke 10:39 & 40). Even when Jesus delayed coming to raise Lazarus for four days, Martha was busy with her questioning of why He had not come sooner, but Mary came and fell, again, at the feet of Jesus. “Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, IF thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.” John 11:32 (KJV)
Neither Martha nor Mary had a firm understanding of the power of the fullness of the Godhead which our Lord possessed. For that matter, neither did any of the disciples until after the Resurrection. We most often qualify our faith in His power as did Mary – with the word IF. It was almost as if they believed that Christ could heal, indeed, but restoring life to a dead corpse was beyond their imaginations.
Now, our Lord is seated at Simon’s table, next to Lazarus, preparing for the meal. Mary, standing behind, sees Jesus sitting there with her brother, Lazarus, who was dead just hours earlier. Suddenly, the Cup of her heart overflowed with the love for both her brother, and the precious One who revived him from the dead. She could contain herself no longer.
“But what can I give Him of any worth?” Her mind was tortured by a desire to demonstrate her deep gratitude and love for the Lord, but WHAT can I give Him? Overcome with a desperate desire to give Him her best, she ran immediately to fetch the most precious resource in her possession – an alabaster box of very precious ointment. I might add that it was the custom in Israel to wash the feet of all dignitaries who enter one’s house as a guest. No one had washed the feet of Jesus; but Mary would wash His feet with an expensive pound of spikenard ointment, and anointed his head. John adds that she also washed the Lord’s feet with the ointment and dried them with the hair of her head. This demonstrates great humility and abiding love. What can YOU give the Lord, friend? You can give Him your very best. Your best is not gems or gold or money. Your best is a resource that the Lord will cherish most and even make His Temple – that is, your heart!
Like many ministers who preach for filthy lucre, Judas was not happy at this expression of love and righteous service. He was jealous of the service of which his heart was incapable, but also of the money which he saw as wasted in the anointing. He may, too, have coveted that money since he was the one who kept the money bag for the band of disciples.
Judas made his displeasure known by raising a complaint. Others seem to agree that Mary’s use of the oil was a waste. One grumpy and envious murmurer can despoil many around him. “Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor? This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein.” John 12:5-6
Perhaps even Mary did not fully understand why she did this anointing. I do not believe any others there did either – except our Lord. He knew in the coming week He would be arrested, given a mock trial, be publicly humiliated, beaten, crowned with a crown of thorns, and nailed, naked, to a cross. No one else could seem to fathom that event though our Lord had told them of it previously. “Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me. For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always. For in that she hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial.”
I have heard it said that we should not honor the dead in Christ – that they have their reward already. Well, that is likely true; however, those who have lived valiantly for Christ need to be remembered for the example they have set for us. “And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.” Rev 14:13 (KJV) If the Lord remembers them, should we not do the same. Look at the concluding words of Christ in our text from Mark 14:9 – “Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her.” Mark 14:9 (KJV) See? We remember Mary, Martha, and Lazarus today in our text – and many others in a thousand different texts. But the One who we must continually stay our hearts upon is the same which so completely disarmed our lovely Mary – the Lord Jesus Christ.