Sunday, April 05, 2020

Spikenard and spite

Sermon for Palm Sunday

We are privileged to spend time with Mary, Martha and Lazarus as they entertain Our Lord and the disciples. Although we have to stand back from the table in order to let the meal take place, we can still see the genuine love and affection that Mary, Martha and Lazarus have for Jesus and His friends. 

Before we know it, a glorious smell hits our noses. It is a strong, earthy, sweet and spicy smell but it is certainly not unpleasant and it overpowers all those wonderful aromas of Martha's cooking. We look and we see an empty alabaster box on the floor and Mary wiping the feet of Jesus with her hair. She has used all of the spikenard, every single expensive drop. 

And everyone breathes in this smell. For many, it will bring back memories of the day they buried someone very dear. Others will think of the far distant Himalayas where spikenard is native and dream of foreign lands. Others will rest in the warm smell and forget about the smell of the street and the hurley burley of daily life. And one will be consumed with envy, spite and resentment as he will not benefit from the proceeds of selling this perfume.


For Judas, something is only worth as much as people are willing to pay for it. He knows the price of spikenard; he knows how much there was in the purse and how much there is now; shortly he will know that the price of a Messiah is thirty pieces of silver. For Judas, the loss of the spikenard means that the poor will get no benefit from their poverty - at least that's the impression that he's trying to sell.

And how blind he is! He walks in darkness oblivious to the needs of human beings that go beyond the filling of the belly. He cannot smell in the spikenard the love that people have for each other. He cannot perceive the concern that Mary has that Our Lord be honoured. 

We might feel contempt for Judas' attitude but we have to admit that this is such a common occurrence. How often do human beings ruin something with their bad attitude? We see the phenomenon of people ruining children's programmes with unpleasant ideas in order to make them relevant to Society. Statues of statesmen are torn down, their good works forgotten because they adhered to ideas which we find unpalatable today. Sometimes, we see something beautiful and we have to ruin it. Why?


There is a simple answer: we simply cannot cope with pure good. We become so overwhelmed by its sheer, glorious positivity that we are unable to cope with it and must sully it to bring it to our sad and sordid level. This is what Judas is doing: faced with the impurity of his heart and his motives, he tries to destroy the warmth of Mary's offering, justifying it with some pressing and worthy issue that just isn't relevant here. And this is why he loses his soul.

Rather than repent and seek to be transformed so that he can bear pure love and goodness, he wants to continue as he is and thus rules himself out of life.


The point of Lent is for us to try and open ourselves to God's transforming power so that we can be in the presence of His Goodness. If we were to see Him as He is in our sinful state we would be utterly destroyed - torn to pieces by the sin in our nature pulling away from God, burnt up by the fire of His love.

Today, we come onto the final week of Lent, and we can be tempted to see our failures to keep the spirit of Lent, our continued sinfulness, and the terrible truth that we will in all likelihood sin again. What Mary has done for Christ, she has done for us too. She might be a sinner, but she is still capable of loving to the best of her ability and it cannot be taken from her. 

The same is true for us too. Sometimes we just need to stop fretting about our sins, sit down with Our Lord and smell the spikenard.

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