Friday, March 30, 2012

Ability and Opportunity

Mark 14: 3-11
Ability and Opportunity
Sunday, March 25, 2012

Trust in a dying man. In some Christian traditions, it is the practice of worshippers to bring their Bibles with them. That is not commonly our practice, but if it were, I would have you open you Bibles to Mark 14. The beginning of this chapter reveals a practice Mark uses throughout his text. Mark takes 2 stories, splits the first story in 2 sections, and places the second story in the middle. In today's text, Mark takes the story of religious leaders seeking a way to arrest and destroy Jesus, splits it in two pieces, and places the story of a woman anointing Jesus with costly perfume. This combination allows us to seek the difference between a woman who trusts Jesus with all she has and men who seek to destroy Jesus.

An Unnamed Woman Always Remembered
At the home of Simon, a man cured of leprosy by Jesus. An unnamed woman enters, opens a small container of ointment/perfume worth the average annual wage of a blue collar worker. This act, Jesus states, is an act that prepares him for his burial.

The act of bathing an anointing normally happens after death, a before burial. John Grisham, in the Chamber, writes of a mother, whose son wrongly accused of murder, is executed by the state of Texas. Her son's body is brought back to the local funeral home. The mother asks all to leave the room, and she slowly and tenderly bathes her son's body, as she did when he was a child.

I have seen wives bathe the bodies of their husbands after their death, to prepare him for burial.

We do not know the name of the woman who performed this act for Jesus, neither do we know her life story, but what we do know that her act was consistent with what Jesus had been teaching his disciples--he was to die and be buried. While many rejected this prophecy, it appears as if this faithful woman trusted Jesus, and took him at his word.

In the Gospel of Mark, trust does not typically come after an amazing sign of miraculous act, but trust precedes the act, and receives the sign or wonder as an act of God's kingdom breaking into the world.

The unnamed woman always remembers reveals the ability to trust.

Looking for the Right Moment
The story wrapped around the story of the unnamed woman, always remembered, is the story of the search for the opportunity to destroy Jesus, and the willingness of Judas to play the role of betrayer.

In the Gospel of Mark, there is an ongoing give and take about those who are insiders and those who are outsiders in the kingdom of God. We read about the call of the 12 disciples of Jesus in Mark, from a large crowd. But the list of those called insiders concludes with the mention of Judas, and his description--the one who will betray Jesus.

The desire of the religious leaders of Jesus' day to destroy him is revealed as early as the beginning of chapter 3 in Mark. The desire to destroy Jesus, appearing in the beginning of chapter 3 comes at the end of a conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders over the issue of sin. The argument starts with the question of who can forgive sin, and concludes with Jesus redefining sin. Perhaps the destruction of Jesus is rooted in how sin is defined.

In every culture, there is a purpose and there is a personal need for naming what is wrong. There is a purpose in naming what is wrong, for it allows for reconciliation; for justice; for healing.

There is also a personal need to name what is wrong--a personal need that may not serve a larger good, but is self-serving. There is a personal need for sin, to name what one believes others are doing the go against the will of God. There is a personal need for laws against what we think is wrong. Consider the moments when, offended by the actions or words of others, you have said, there should be a law against that action. There is a personal need for diagnosis. To have a diagnosis can take away a person's responsibility for creating the situation in which they find themselves. Parents, not wanting to see their own contributions to their child's problems, can actually be relieved with a diagnosis.

Jonathon Haidt, author of "Why Good People are divided by Politics and Religion," writes, Moral intuitions arise automatically and almost instantaneously, long before moral reasoning has a chance to ge started, and those first intuitions tend to drive our later reasoning...if you thing about moral reasoning as a skill we humans evolved to further our social agendas--to justify our own actions and to defend the teams we belong to--then things will make a lot more sense.

Perhaps the personal need to define what is a sin, what is illegal, and a diagnosis is a later construct to justify one's self, and an attempt to control what happens next.

Is not control the opposite of trust?

Trust, Control, and Money
Fascinatingly enough, these two stories about one who trusts and one who destroys through control have repeated references to money. Money is mention three times. We first hear of the value of the ointment of nard that is being used to anoint Jesus. We also hear of the statements of those around the woman, claiming she could have sold the ointment and given the money to the poor. Finally, we hear about the money Judas was offered to betray Jesus.

When reading scripture, we can unwittingly connect place in assume that commonly used phrases come from somewhere outside of scripture, such as "A house divided against itself cannot stand." This is attributed to Lincoln, but comes from scripture. Or, "Those who do not work, do not eat," which is attributed to John Smith, but comes from scripture. We can also place into scripture lines like, "God helps those who help themselves," which is not in scripture. And, we can adjust lines from scripture, such as "Money is the root of all evil." The actual line is, "The love of money is the root of all evil." That line is helpful to our conversation today.

In our modern day culture, money represents power and control.

Lottery. When lottery jackpots get large, more people buy tickets. Many will say, "If I win, my life won't change much. I will still go to work, but it would be nice to know that if I got tired of my boss, I could quit, and not worry about money." There is a level of control in that claim.

Giving. I once had a parishioner who rarely gave money to what he was asked to give to. For instance, if there was a death in the parish and the family indicated that memorial contributions were to be given to the music fund of the church, he would give the money to the mission fund instead. Surface wise, sounds honorable that he is striving to help those in need. Here is the curiosity, this man was the chairperson of the mission fund. He had control of the money he gave away.

Good Reasons. We have this troublesome line in the text from Jesus, "You always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me." This offends our sensibilities related to acts of charity for those in need. Perhaps this line challenges our assumptions. Perhaps giving to the poor becomes a good reason to avoid giving up control of our money. Each time I receive my paycheck, I sit at my desk and write my offering check to Trinity Church, believing that I give first to God through the church, before I do anything else with my money. Then, I write checks to the community organizations in Lancaster that I support--organizations that serve those in need.

Money, I believe is mentioned, because how we use our money reflects our desire for control over our lives and over the lives and actions of others.

My cousin recently told me about a colleague of hers who had adopted at son when the child was a year and a half old. Any attempt that he and his wife made to draw the child close to them, and hold him met with complete resistance. In fact, they had to be carefully that in his efforts to push away from them, the child did not fall. One evening, at a church meeting, as the man was speaking, he saw, in the corner of the room, his wife, sobbing with tears running down her face. Concerned, he went toward her to see what was troubling her. Then he saw it, the child had stopped fighting, and was resting his head on his mother's heart.

Control gave way to trust, through the patient, loving, and trusting presence of the child's parents.


No comments:

Post a Comment