A Jar of Alabaster

There are a lot of directions to take when reflecting about Palm Sunday. It is difficult to explore everything! Just as Jesus was welcomed as king as he rode into Jerusalem, hopefully we believe him to be the savior of our lives today. There’s also the layer of self-examination, since many who praised Jesus were shouting “crucify him!” later in the week. From biblical prophecy to salvation, the final week of Jesus covers a lot of important topics.

In John’s gospel, there’s another moment of praise and worship that occurs right before the “triumphal entry.” You might be familiar with the story of the woman anointing Jesus. Here’s how John 12:1-11 reads:

Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him.

This is a powerful story recounted in all four gospels. It was often the case in Jesus’ life that the insiders did not truly “get it” when it comes to Jesus’ identity. The religious folk frequently complained about his ministry. The disciples even seemed to misunderstand Jesus’ true mission.

On the other hand, Mary of Bethany was the one who truly understood Jesus in this scene. According to the text, it sounds like she understands where Jesus will end up, since she offers expensive perfume normally set aside for someone’s burial. One of the powerful things about God’s kingdom is that it is often revealed in the most unlikely ways. This was definitely the case in the ancient world, where women did not have many rights or say about their destiny! Mary teaches us to worship Christ with our whole heart.

There’s a poem (and a painting!) I found this week reflecting on this scene of powerful worship. It was written by Fr. David Hilt and is titled “Bethany.” Consider this depiction of Jesus being anointed:

You came into our life on feet

like dusty heartbeats, beating bare,

your human heart out-pouring love

and life for one whom even death

itself could not keep back from you.

And I have nothing worth your gift;

incomp’rable, to place into 

your hands but my most costly thing;

a poor excuse compared with All.

This earthen vessel, feminine,

I break before your dusty feet

and pour its oil, perfumed and rich,

to cleanse the dust from calloused toes

and wipe them, intimate, with hair

that just a spouse should see and fear

I intimate your death. This gift,

this chrism meant for you alone

lifts up its heady scent and fills

this house like prayer, confirming dust

with sanctity and all because

you came into my life on feet

like dusty heartbeats beating bare.

And lastly, I encourage you to listen to this powerful song, “Alabaster Heart” by Bethel Music:

This week, as you ready yourself for Easter, may you truly worship Christ and see him for who he is, just like Mary did so long ago!

The Importance of Sharing

We are taught from an early age about the importance of sharing. Kids learn early on how easy it is to be greedy, and how the consequences can be bad. To be honest, most of us adults never overcome this sinful habit!

Sharing is incredibly importance. We share because it is a physical act of several admirable virtues, such as compassion and empathy. When we see someone who has very little (from toys to money), by giving out our own resources, we are able to live out kindness.

The same idea is also outlined in our, too. We bless others through our own personal blessings. If we claim to have faith, we must also have generosity. James 2 puts it this way:

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

Scripture is clear in noting that our charity ought to be holistic. We care about someone’s physical needs, as well as their spiritual ones! Faith and deeds must go hand in hand. We cannot truly have one without the other.

Just as we ought to share material goods with those in need, sharing our faith is important. This is obviously less “physical” than tending to needs like hunger or shelter. Yet the words we share about God to one another matter greatly. I’ve noticed that we sometime struggle with this idea as a denomination. Generally speaking, we are quite focused on social justice and outreach work as Methodists (and have a rich history of doing those things!), but we can feel uncomfortable talking about our faith with others. We might even subconsciously think that “testimonies” are just what the Baptists or evangelicals do down the road!

It is my prayer that everyone at Concord has experienced powerful encounters with God. However, that’s only one step in the process. Hopefully we have a desire to share about those encounters with other people, to they can experience the goodness of God for themselves. Just as we want to help people through a food pantry, mission trip sponsorship, or clothing drive, hopefully we also have the same passion when it comes to our words.

In our Sunday school lesson yesterday, we talked about the importance to telling your story. We all have a testimony, and we have the opportunity to help others by telling our story to people who might need it. As you consider what sharing your own faith looks like, consider the following questions…

  • What have been some difficult seasons of life? Did I seek God during those times? 
  • When did I first experience God’s presence?
  • What does God’s presence feel like? Why is it important for me to feel God?
  • How do I regularly experience God right now? (Music, silence, prayer, reading scripture, fishing, etc.)
  • How has following Jesus made a difference in my life?
  • What is a sin that I’ve overcome through the Holy Spirit’s power? What part of my life is God “working on” right now?
  • How has God changed my behavior, thinking, or attitude?
  • What have I learned about God since I first became a Christian?

I encourage you to reflect on these prompts. Maybe we could learn a thing or two from your our past and be better able to articulate how God has impacted our lives.

When it comes to testimonies, sometimes we do not know where to start. Maybe we overlook the value of sharing our words with others. Perhaps we don’t think our story is interesting enough. But God calls absolutely everyone to be an apostle.

Jesus as Wisdom

God is described in many different ways throughout scripture. We might be familiar with “parent” language about God, where Jesus taught his disciples to pray to our heavenly father with the Lord’s prayer and many passages in John’s gospel. But there are many ways humans have used words to describe our relationship with God:

  • God is a shepherd- Psalm 23 comes to mind, as well as Jesus speaking about humanity being his “flock.” God is indeed the good shepherd who seeks our protection and welfare!
  • God is a rock- This signifies the steadfastness of God and how God will not move depending on worldly changes.
  • God is a mother- Hosea 11:3-4 speaks of God as a tender mother, nursing her young and teaching them how to walk.
  • God is a mother hen- In Matthew 23:37, God seeks to “gather her chicks under her wing.”
  • God is wisdom- We’ll explore this kind of idea now…

As a side note, if you are interested in why the bible might use lots of metaphors, check out the following:

There are many ways in which people might define wisdom. I’ve heard it said that wisdom comes through life experience—the young or inexperienced don’t necessarily have it! It could be “street smarts” of knowing how to handle certain situations. Even other define it as applied knowledge. We can have all the “book knowledge” in the world, yet still lack true wisdom, so wisdom does differ from simply knowing facts.

This topic applies to discipleship. When we follow Jesus, hopefully we attain Godly wisdom. We understand the character of God. We steer our thoughts and actions in the right direction, with the help of the Holy Spirit. And in turn, we live out God’s intentions as we treat others in a loving way. In short, biblical wisdom means we know what God desires for our life and we act on it!

As you might recall, the bible has quite a bit to say about wisdom. There are even entire books dedicated to wisdom sayings and teachings. Wisdom itself is often personified as a a woman. Her reward is more valuable than any sort of riches. Wisdom herself is even described as being eternal. Consider some of these sayings from Proverbs 8, where wisdom is deeply intertwined with God’s character (and perhaps synonymous with God Godself!):

Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold; for wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her. I, wisdom, live with prudence, and I attain knowledge and discretion. The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate. I have good advice and sound wisdom; I have insight, I have strength. By me kings reign, and rulers decree what is just; by me rulers rule, and nobles, all who govern rightly. I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me. Riches and honor are with me, enduring wealth and prosperity. My fruit is better than gold, even fine gold, and my yield than choice silver. I walk in the way of righteousness, along the paths of justice, endowing with wealth those who love me, and filling their treasuries.

This poetry from Proverbs reminds us of several profound truths for our faith. True wisdom begins with loving the Lord. Pursuing the “rewards” or “fruit” of wisdom is unlike any sort of human praise we could attain. When we have wisdom, we live righteous lives.

There are other ancient writings that aren’t included in every bible, particularly the Apocrypha. Many of these teachings and history books were well-known around the time of Jesus. I personally think they make for interesting reading. Some books are actually quite similar to others like Proverbs. Here’s an insightful passage from Sirach 6:24-28, speaking about wisdom:

Put your feet into her fetters and your neck into her collar. Put your shoulder under her and carry her, And do not be angry with her bonds. Come to her with all your soul, And keep her ways with all your strength. Search for her and seek her out, And she will become known to you; And when you become self-controlled, do not let her go. For in the end you will find her rest, And she will turn to you in gladness.

So with Proverbs and Sirach in mind, can you think of anything else in scripture that might ring a bell? Is there another “character” or thing that seems to embody Godly wisdom?

The answer is simple… It’s Jesus Christ! He is the fulfillment of Godly wisdom. The nature of God was made fully known in his life and ministry. Jesus taught countless lessons on what Godly wisdom looks like, from forgiving others, worshipping God, to praying for guidance.

When I read Proverbs 8, I cannot help but think of the kingdom of God and how Jesus taught us what that looks like. You might remember Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount, how we are to store up heavenly treasures. True wisdom will not give us earthly riches, but the best treasure we could ever discover is with God’s kingdom.

Sirach 6 reminds me of Matthew 11, where Jesus teaches us to put upon his yoke in our life. We must be steered and guided by God alone. Godly wisdom leads us in the path of righteousness. When we follow Jesus, we truly find rest, too.

As you continue your growth as a disciple of Jesus, remember that wisdom originates with God. The most important thing we could ever learn, remember, or apply is the fact that God loves our world and has a plan for it. We are a part of God’s redemptive plan. Everyone has the opportunity to seize that wisdom and to know Christ. Paul describes it this way in this beautiful passage from 1 Corinthians 1:26-31:

26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”