Three reflections on the woman with the alabaster jar (Matthew 26, Mark 14; Luke 7, John 12)

Mary anoints the feet of jesus by Frank Wesley

Mary Anoints the Feet of Jesus by Frank Wesley

Anointing by Steve Garnaas Holmes
Beloved,
may everything I do today
be my anointing of you;
every thought, word and deed
a pouring out of myself for you,
a gift of service, adoration and thanks.

May every act comfort you,
receive your sacred story,
join me to you in your suffering,
embrace your dying
and prepare for what will follow.
In your death may you be wrapped
in the balm of my own heart.

Give me courage to give my gifts
no matter how others may judge them.
May my life give off the aroma
of gratitude and love.
Accept the anointing of my tears,
my prayers, my being.
In your love
I carry the alabaster jar of my life
into this new day.

Why This Waste? by Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
The oil is poured
The criticism comes
even while the scent is still thick in the air

Why this waste?

Why worship?
Why take the time?
Why spend the money?
The poor, remember the poor
There’s so much work to be done

Yes beloved, remember
Remember the poor and remember her
The way is And not Or
Worship and Work
Loving God and Loving Neighbor
Looking Up and Looking Out For
The cross-shaped life

The work doesn’t work without the worship
The worship’s unfinished without the work

Pour Forth by Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
There… beyond the feasting circle
A woman
Who are you? What is your story?
No name, no voice
Yet coming close with your gifts

Some are easy to see
An alabaster jar full of exotic perfume
Boldly broken,
And you pour forth more gifts
Out pours your heart
Your adoration
Your gratitude
Your passion
Your sacrifice
The air is thick with your story
It oozes down your Beloved’s beard, pooling on his callused hands

The shattering brings the circle silent
The aroma, meant for all to enjoy
Instead draws an angry answer
They will not bear your story

Cutting remarks fly at you through the fragrant veil
Indignant daggers thrust into your offering
How dare you! Who do you think you are?
Too generous
Too extravagant
Too intimate
We have a better way
Such a waste… code for waste her
Shatter her spirit
Quick, to the stones
A broken body is the cure

Stop! Leave her alone declares the Anointed One!
Misspent? Misused?
No! You misunderstand!
You miss the mark!
She did what she could- all that she could
Balming my body for burial

You have loved Me
Censing my sacrifice
Grace made fragrant
An act beyond words
A silent song for the ages

Pour forth

It is blessing. It is beautiful.
You are blessing. You are beautiful.

Soak it in

You there, religious ones
You berate, rebuke and bombard
While she… she breaks open
She breaks through bearing the Good News

Your words will fall forgotten
Her story will stand… remembered

***********
The anointing of Jesus is mentioned in all four gospels and probably recounts two different events. Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; Luke 7:36-50; John 12:1-8

Matthew, Mark, and John mention the location of Bethany and the woman as Mary, the sister of Matha and Lazarus. Mary is criticized for the extravagance of anointing Jesus with the costly nard rather than selling it and the proceeds given to the poor.

In Luke, the location seems to be in the region of Galilee in the north. The woman is unnamed. Jesus himself is brought into question and criticized for allowing a sinner to touch him.

In Matthew and Mark, Jesus’ head is anointed. In Luke and John it is Jesus’ feet.

The details are interesting, but do not miss the main points- the extravance, the courage, the thanksgiving, the grace, the blessing, the welcome. This is why we remember.

Sermon Recording- Face to Face, Judas and Jesus

Judas coins

Message: Face to Face, Judas and Jesus
Scriptures:  Matthew 26:14-16
This message was offered Sunday, 3/04/18 at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota Florida. It was inspired by the book Moments with the Savior by Ken Gire

Holy Week is so special, most of the days have a name

  • Palm Sunday- The day Jesus entered Jerusalem to shouts of “Hosanna” and a crowd waving palm branches (Matthew 21:1-11; Luke 19:29-44; Mark 11:1-11; John 12:12-19)
  • Fig Monday – The day Jesus cursed the fig tree for not bearing fruit (Matthew 21:18–22; Mark 11:12–14 and 11:20–25)
  • Tuesday is unnamed. It is the day Jesus turned over the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple, was confronted by the Jewish leadership, and witnessed the widow making her offering in the temple treasury
  • Maundy Thursday – The day Jesus gives a new commandment, a new mandate, a new mandatum. “Love one another just as I have loved you.” (John 13:34-35)
  • Good Friday- The goodness and love of God seen in the death of Jesus
  • Holy Saturday, sometimes Silent Saturday- Jesus is in the tomb
  • Easter Sunday- The resurrection of Christ

Wednesday is one of my favorites. Spy Wednesday, the day Judas betrays Jesus. (cue the James Bond music)

Matthew 26:14-16 NRSV
14 One of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What will you give me if I betray him to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver. 16 And from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.

Jesus chose Judas to be one of his closest disciples- one of the twelve. They were together for three years, yet it seems Judas never placed his trust in Jesus. He never crossed the threshold of faith.

How could this be? All that time in the very presence of Jesus, all he heard, all he saw.
How could this be?

  1. He had no choice. Judas was predestined to betray Jesus. No, we believe in free will
  2. Judas was driven by his own agenda- driven by greed, driven by power
  3. Maybe it was something more subtle. Judas was just being practical.

Judas was the disciple with the head for business. Jesus put him in charge of the money. When the woman with the alabaster jar anointed Jesus with costly perfume, Judas complained about the extravagance. “You should have sold that perfume and given the money to the poor.”

Judas was being practical in thinking of himself. He often kept some of the money he was to watch for himself, so the extravagant gift was money out of his pocket

When the tide of popularity began to turn against Jesus, Judas started looking ahead, taking precautions to protect himself, socking away a little more money here and there. Just in case.

To Judas, he wasn’t being greedy, it wasn’t stealing, it wasn’t a betrayal. He was just being practical. “I’ve left everything. I’ve done so much. I earned that money. I need to take care of myself.”

Then Jesus starts confronting the religious leaders, people with influence, people with power. The leaders are like a huge pot of stew- bubbling with hate, jealousy, and paranoia. Judas gets wind of what’s cooking- the leaders are plotting to kill Jesus. Judas’ mind starts calculating- if they kill Jesus, they’ll come after his followers next.

To Judas, his shift in loyalties wasn’t a power grab, it wasn’t a betrayal. He was just being practical.  “If Jesus was determined to dig his own grave, I’ll just help him with the shovel. He’s asking for it. It’s inevitable. I need to look out for myself. There’s no dishonor in jumping from a sinking ship. And the thirty pieces of silver? Well, that’s just a life preserver, a little something to keep me afloat until I land somewhere.”

So on Spy Wednesday, Judas makes the deal with the Jewish leaders

Now it’s Thursday, time to celebrate the Passover

A time to look back-back to the nation’s deliverance from four hundred years of Egyptian slavery. A time to look forward— forward to the time when the Messiah will bring peace, freedom, and salvation.

Jesus and the disciples gathered around a low-lying table to celebrate the feast. They recline on padded mats, propping themselves on the left arm, leaving the other free to handle the food.

Each type of food reminds them of the nation’s first Passover.

  • The bowl of herbs, vinegar, and salt is a reminder of the bitter years of slavery
  • The flat cakes of yeast-less bread are a reminder of their hurried departure
  • And finally, there is the roasted lamb, a symbol of deliverance.

What broke Pharaoh’s oppressive fist that first Passover was a final, climactic plague—
a visit from the angel of death to kill every firstborn son. To spare the Jews from that fate, God instructed them to kill a lamb and sprinkle its blood on the sides and tops of the doorframes outside their homes. When the angel of death saw this evidence of faith, it passed over that house and traveled on to another.

Tonight, heaven will be preparing its Passover Lamb- an innocent lamb, without spot or blemish. Jesus’ blood will mark a wooden cross outside the city. A perfect, once for all sacrifice. All Jerusalem will behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.

What God in Jesus was choosing to do was anything but practical

Earlier in the upper room, Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, teaching them a final lesson about love and serving. Two of those feet belonged to Judas. Dusty and calloused. How could Judas bear it? How could Jesus? What Jesus was choosing to do was anything but practical.

Jesus has so much to tell his disciples. But so little time. A hush falls over the room as he speaks, “He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me.”

Many things have been said against Jesus. Never once did But the Pharisees accused him of not practicing what he preached. In these last minutes with his betrayer, the Savior lives his own words from the Sermon on the Mount,

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)

It is anything but practical

Now it is time for Jesus to unmask his betrayer. “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.”

At the mention of a traitor in their midst, the disciples begin to ask, “Is it I?”

“It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.”

It was customary for the master of the feast to put bits of lamb onto a piece of unleavened bread, dip it into the bitter herb sauce, and hand it to his guests. And it was customary to offer the first piece to the most honored guest. Jesus hands the bread to Judas . . . to take . . . and to eat. Jesus honors Judas. Jesus offers bread to lips whose kiss would betray him. It is anything but practical.

The dramatic moment is not only an unmasking of the traitor but a final offer of salvation. Does Judas feel regret? Does he question his choice? There’s still time to choose another path, but he doesn’t.

“What you are about to do, do quickly.”

With those words, Jesus acknowledges Judas’ choice. They would both go their separate ways to separate trees.

Judas makes the practical choice.
The choice Jesus makes is anything but practical.
What choice will you make?

*****************
I’m excited to now offer mp3’s of my Sunday messages. A huge thank you to Sean and my brothers and sisters at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota for all their help in making this possible. If you’re ever in Sarasota, please drop by for worship Sundays at 9am or 10:30am, or join us live on our Facebook page at 9am Sundays, or drop by during the week for a chat or small group. You and those you love are always welcome.

sermon © 2018 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Contact Lisa for posting and publication considerations.

Two Reflections on Betrayal, Denial, and Forgiveness

peter judas betray deny

Extended Quote from Destination: Known, Readings for Holy Week in the Upper Room Disciplines (2012) by Thomas R. Steagald
Sometimes our familiarity and haste we bypass verses of scripture. Because we already know the story of who “betrayed” Jesus, our attention in this passage [John 13:21-32] jumps quickly ahead to the conversation between Jesus and Simon Peter, the piece of bread, and Judas’s leaving the meal to meet with the religious officials.

But what of verse 22: “The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking?” …

Could it be that each of the disciples is humble enough, uncertain enough, to know that given the right set of circumstances or stressors, any one of them has it within him to do what Judas would in fact do?…

For only those who love Jesus can betray him. His enemies might hate him; others might disregard or ignore him; but only those who sit at the table can get up and leave, and only those close enough to kiss him can give the kiss of death. That Judas is the one who guided the soldiers to Gethsemane on fresh-washed feet, his breath smelling of sacrament, is a particular instance of what is possible for all disciples.

It is unfortunate that we so quickly rush to blame Judas, so quickly leave him and this verse of scripture behind; for indeed, this Holy Week calls us to examine ourselves, to hear Jesus’ prediction, uncertain of whom else he might be speaking.

Forgive me, Lord, when I turn away from you and your purposes. Amen.

Matthew 26:21-35
Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” And they began to say to him one after another, “Surely not I, Lord?” … Then Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters because of me this night.” Peter said to him, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And so said all the disciples.

The Seat of Greatest Grace by Steve Garnaas Holmes
Jesus, my Friend,
my Beloved, my Person,
I love you, and I will falter.
I will deny you. I will betray you.
Three times ten thousand times
I will deny you.
The silver pieces lie in my pocket.
I have the nails.
And you, knowing, invite me to your table,
to the place of honor even,
this seat of greatest grace,
beside you,
to share your bread with me,
and lay down your body for me.
I can hardly look into the sun
of such forgiveness,
love’s empty tomb
that defeats me,
re-makes me.

I confess. I return.
Knowing, I follow,
drawn in your grace,
this burden that is light.

Be sure to also check out Denial, by Steve Garnaas Holmes

Two Reflections on Jesus Praying in Gethsemane

christ-in-gethsemane-pExtended quote from Max Lucado, The Upper Room Disciplines 2010
It is a stark scene. Jesus praying in Gethsemane, saying, “My heart is ready to break with grief. …” Does this look like the picture of a saintly Jesus resting in the palm of God? Hardly. We see an agonizing, straining, and struggling Jesus. We see a “man of sorrows.” We see a man struggling with fear, wrestling with commitments, and yearning for relief.

We see Jesus in the fog of a broken heart.

My, what a portrait! Jesus is in pain. Jesus is on the stage of fear. Jesus is cloaked, not in sainthood, but in humanity.

The next time the fog finds you, remember Jesus in the garden. The next time you think no one understands, reread the fourteenth chapter of Mark. The next time your self-pity convinces you that no one cares, pay a visit to Gethsemane. And the next time you wonder if God really perceives the pain that prevails on this dusty planet, listen to the pleading among the twisted trees.

Seeing God like this does wonders for our own suffering. God was never more human than at this hour. God was never nearer to us than when God hurt. The Incarnation was never so fulfilled as in the garden.

Jesus, may I watch with you in your pain and so come to understand that you watch me in mine. Amen.

Matthew 26:40-41
Could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.

We must have faith during the period of our grief. We think that our afflictions will be greater than we can bear, but we do not know the strength of our own hearts, nor the power of God. – François Fenelon

Stay Awake by Steve Garnaas Holmes
I slip into sleep,
a deadness I seek,
a trance of avoidance,
distraction’s pleasant coma.
I am numb to your world, O Christ,
to your suffering, your love,
unconscious of you here.

Awaken me.
Breathe yourself into me
and rouse me
from my fearful distance.

Let even pain keep me awake,
attentive to your pain
in all who hurt,
your love keep me alert
to love in all your forms.

Grant me this simple gift,
all you ask:
that I may stay awake,
trusting I am not orphaned,
and pray with you,
so earnestly praying for me
and all the world.
just stay awake my little time
and pray with you.

Let all my waking hours
be wakeful hours.

Why this Waste? Worship in Times of Great Need (Matthew 26:6-13)

woman anointing jesus 700xMatthew 26:6-13 NRSV
Now while Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment, and she poured it on his head as he sat at the table. But when the disciples saw it, they were angry and said, “Why this waste? For this ointment could have been sold for a large sum, and the money given to the poor.” But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. By pouring this ointment on my body she has prepared me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”

The oil is poured
The criticism comes
even while the scent is still thick in the air

Why this waste?

Why worship?
Why take the time?
Why spend the money?
The poor, remember the poor
There’s so much work to be done

Yes beloved, remember
Remember the poor and remember her
The way is And not Or
Worship and Work
Loving God and Loving Neighbor
Looking Up and Looking Out For
The cross-shaped life

The work doesn’t work without the worship
The worship’s unfinished without the work

********
Why This Waste? © 2014 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution.
Please contact Lisa for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Christ's Body, Broken for You- Part 2

Miserere by Georges Rouault

Isaiah 53:3-5 (NLT)
He was despised and rejected — a man of sorrows, acquainted with bitterest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way when he went by. He was despised, and we did not care. Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God for his own sins! But he was wounded and crushed for our sins. He was beaten that we might have peace. He was whipped, and we were healed!

Matthew 26:26 (NRSV)
While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”

A dread and marvelous mystery we see come to pass this day
He whom none may touch is seized
He who looses Adam from the curse is bound
He who tries our hearts and inner thoughts is unjustly brought to trial
He who closed the abyss is shut in prison
He before whom the powers of heaven stand with trembling, stands before Pilate
The Creator is struck by the hand of a creature
He who comes to judge the living and the dead is condemned to the cross
The Destroyer of hell is enclosed in a tomb. – Byzantine liturgy

So if you’re not too proud, too busy, or too old,
I will throw you My forgiveness
As I did when men like you
Were coldly nailing Me to the splintered stake of death.
My forgiveness reaches out
As you hear Me cry, “You’re in,”
As you see Me sweat and die
For all the broken ties between mankind and God. ― Norman C. Habel

I take the shoes from my feet,
I put off all that is finite and tread on a land without borders.
Burst forth, all the dark well-springs of my life!
Come flying all my nights, dark birds of guilt, descend upon me with outstretched wings:
I will go into deepest sorrow that I may find my God.
For sorrow is great in the world, mighty and without end.
It has encompassed that against which heaven and earth are shattered,
It has endured the weight of infinite love.
Holy God, Holy Strength, Holy Immortal.
Thou God under my sin, Thou God under my weakness, Thou God under my death.
I lay my lips upon thy wounds – Lord, I lay my soul upon thy cross.
-Gertrude von Le Fort

Ah, Holy Jesus by Johann Heermann (trans. by Robert S. Bridges)
Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended,
That we to judge thee have in hate pretended?
By foes derided, by thine own rejected, O most afflicted!

Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee!
‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee; I crucified thee.

Lo, the Good Shepherd for the sheep is offered;
The slave hath sinned, and the Son hath suffered.
For our atonement, while we nothing heeded, God interceded.

For me, kind Jesus, was thy incarnation,
Thy mortal sorrow, and thy life’s oblation;
Thy death of anguish and thy bitter passion, for my salvation.

Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay thee,
I do adore thee, and will ever pray thee,
Think on thy pity and thy love unswerving, not my deserving.

Blessing of Balm by Jan L. Richardson
When we see
the body of Christ
still broken
in this world,
may we meet it
with lavish grace
and pour ourselves out
with extravagant love.

From The Crucified by Kahlil Gibran
Oh, crucified Jesus,
who art looking sorrowfully from Mount Calvary
at the sad procession of the Ages,
and hearing the clamor of the dark nations,
and understanding the dreams of Eternity:

Thou art, on the Cross,
more glorious and dignified
than one thousand kings
upon one thousand thrones
in one thousand empires.

Thou art, in the agony of death,
more powerful than one thousand generals
in one thousand wars.

With thy sorrows,
thou art more joyous than Spring with its flowers.

With thy suffering,
thou art more bravely silent than the crying of angels
of heaven.

Before thy lashers,
thou art more resolute than the mountain of rock.

Thy wreath of thorns is more brilliant and sublime
than the crown of Bahram.
The nails piercing thy hands are more beautiful
than the scepter of Jupiter.
The spatters of blood upon thy feet are more resplendent
than the necklace of Ishtar.

Forgive the weak who lament thee today,
for they do not know how to lament themselves.

Forgive them,
for they do not know that thou has conquered death
with death,
and bestowed life upon the dead.

Forgive them,
for they do not know that the strength still awaits them.

Forgive them,
for they do not know that every day is thy day.

———————
For more quotes and scriptures on Christ’s broken body, click here

For quote and scriptures on The Wounds of Christ, click here

For another devotion and original hymn text entitled Tell Me Dear Tree, click here

For another devotion and an original poem entitled The Taste of Death, click here

For another devotion and an original poem entitled You Understand my Pain, click here

———————
For more information on the art, scripture translations and the use of this post in other settings, please leave a comment

Pour Forth

anointing-jesus-stained-glass1Pour Forth
by Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia

There… beyond the feasting circle
A woman
Who are you? What is your story?
No name, no voice
Yet coming close with your gifts

Some are easy to see
An alabaster jar
full of exotic perfume
Boldly broken,
And you pour forth more gifts
Out pours your heart
Your adoration
Your gratitude
Your passion
Your sacrifice
The air is thick with your story
It oozes down your Beloved’s beard, pooling on his callused hands

The shattering brings the circle silent
The aroma, meant for all to enjoy
Instead draws an angry answer
They will not bear your story

Cutting remarks fly at you through the fragrant veil
Indignant daggers thrust into your offering
How dare you! Who do you think you are?
Too generous
Too extravagant
Too intimate
We have a better way
Such a waste… code for waste her
Shatter her spirit
Quick, to the stones
A broken body is the cure

Stop! Leave her alone declares the Anointed One!
Misspent? Misused?
No! You misunderstand!
You miss the mark!
She did what she could- all that she could
Balming my body for burial

You have loved Me
Censing my sacrifice
Grace made fragrant
An act beyond words
A silent song for the ages

Pour forth

It is blessing. It is beautiful.
You are blessing. You are beautiful.

Soak it in

You there, religious ones
You berate, rebuke and bombard
While she… she breaks open
She breaks through bearing the Good News

Your words will fall forgotten
Her story will stand… remembered

*********
I am indebted to my friends Jan Richardson and Garrison Doles for their inspiration and encouragement. Their offerings at a retreat on the anointing of Jesus from Mark 14:1-11 broke open this poem for me. I encourage you to learn more about their powerful and faithful ministries. – Lisa <><

© 2011 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this poem in a worship setting with proper attribution.
Leave a comment for more information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Be sure to also check out the devotion Anointing, by Steve Garnaas Holmes

Click here for a devotion on a similar passage, John 12:1-19