It’s Maundy Thursday, on which we remember the Last Supper, so obviously we’re not going to talk about the Last Supper. Call me unconventional if you want, but that’s just how I roll, and today I’m rolling towards John 12.
It’s not entirely unconnected to today’s commemoration though, as in the UK we have the tradition of Maundy Money, by which the Queen makes presentations of money to deserving senior citizens. She apparently considers it an important part of her devotional life, and it has interesting links to a dinner party held a couple of thousand years earlier…
So Jesus and the disciples are at the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus (and the facetious part of me wants to know how the after-dinner conversation went – “Lazarus, hi! How you doing? Still alive?”), when Mary anoints Jesus’s feet with an expensive perfume. Fair enough, but this raises some hackles – Judas in particular complains that she’d have been better off selling the money and giving it to the poor.
Now, we immediately side against Judas because, well, he’s Judas, but on the surface it’s a fair question – after all, there’d be no shortage of neighbours sitting on or near the poverty line. And while this story is often used as an example of extravagant worship, that has its own dangers – look at how Jesus warned about making great shows of piety. Look at how the prophets warned against making holy sacrifices while ignoring the earthly poor. Judas has a point.
No, wait, come back. It’s not that simple. Because while Judas’s outrage forces us to look at our motives when it comes to worship, it’s really just a mask – while he sounds very noble and sacrificial, John tells us what’s really going on – he’s a thief and he’s looking for a chance to embezzle Jesus and the others. His words sound great, but his heart… Well, it’s not long before he’ll be earning thirty pieces of silver.
And that’s the danger, isn’t it? It’s not about actions, because in another world Judas could have been right and Mary was doing this for show. It’s about what’s in the heart.
Am I writing this blog because I want to learn about God or am I in it for the site hits?
Am I preaching because I want to tell people about Jesus or because it gives me power and authority and attention?
Am I composing this worship song to express something of the beauty and majesty of faith or because it’ll make s good closing track for the CD?
Am I doing the church accounts to support the Kingdom, or because it’s a nice little earner and I’ll never get caught?
What’s in the heart? That’s the question that matters, after all the mock concern for social justice and the smell of expensive perfume has faded. Jesus knows this, and it’s a question he returns to, in one form or another, over and over again. And he affirms Mary’s actions, not because there’s anything wrong with caring for the poor, but because it was a genuine, heartfelt act of worship.
Outside, people are gathering because they know Lazarus was raised from the dead and they want to see what Jesus can do for them. Inside, a disciple says he wants to help those in poverty but is really only in it for himself. And in the middle of all this, only one person seems to see beyond the activity and crowds and opportunism to recognise that the Messiah is here and that he’s deserving of worship. Mary does what she can to honour that and it costs her; economically, yes, but also her heart. Selfishness is no longer an option because Jesus is here.
I don’t have that heart.
Maybe, this Easter, I need to get praying that I would.