Monday, March 14, 2016

Marks of Discipleship in John 12:1-11

1 Six days before the Passover celebration began, Jesus arrived in Bethany, the home of Lazarus—the man he had raised from the dead. 2 A dinner was prepared in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, and Lazarus was among those who ate with him. 3 Then Mary took a twelve-ounce jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard, and she anointed Jesus’ feet with it, wiping his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance. 4 But Judas Iscariot, the disciple who would soon betray him, said, 5 “That perfume was worth a year’s wages. It should have been sold and the money given to the poor.” 6 Not that he cared for the poor—he was a thief, and since he was in charge of the disciples’ money, he often stole some for himself. 7 Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. She did this in preparation for my burial. 8 You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” 9 When all the people heard of Jesus’ arrival, they flocked to see him and also to see Lazarus, the man Jesus had raised from the dead. 10 Then the leading priests decided to kill Lazarus, too, 11 for it was because of him that many of the people had deserted them and believed in Jesus.

What kinds of qualities mark a disciple?

 The author of John has drawn on the experiences of Mary of Bethany contrasted by Judas Iscariot to reveal what true discipleship really is.

Growing up in the church during the 70’s and 80’s my concept of discipleship revolved around mainly aspects of culture that were considered socially appropriate. It was defined more by what we should not do than by what was in the heart--or what flowed out of the heart. We were supposed to be a good “witness,” which meant that I should never show any negative feelings such as anger or dismay. One should always be happy even when it was normal to be sad so that one would be a witness to others around them.

We were to dress a certain way also, so that we could “witness” to others around us. It was a witness … but what were we saying, really. Instead of witnessing to the reality of Christ and the life he came to bring, our lives only said… “Christians are unreal and in authentic and a bit odd in how they dress.”  And I began to long for a discipleship that actually helped us become like Jesus--a man who offered dignity to those without dignity, healing to those who were ill, life to those who suffered and community to those pushed to the fringes.  This kingdom Jesus was bringing looked vastly different from the one ruled by Rome.

The world is in need of genuine followers of Jesus whose lives… like Mary’s speak of the reality of a transformed life lived in the power of the resurrection. I think that genuine disciples or followers of Jesus have the potential to change the world from the heart-side out as we see revealed in the account of Mary of Bethany.

So what does it look like to be a disciple or follower of Jesus Christ?  There are 3 nuances the author of John is revealing that can help us with that question.

 First, a disciple of Jesus has experienced Jesus and resurrection life.

Our text today is marked by two references to Lazarus and the account of his resurrection that has just preceded this vignette. From a literary standpoint those references act as a parentheses marking off what is in the middle. In chapter 11 Mary and Martha have seen Jesus raise their brother from the dead. The disciples and Jesus are traveling to Jerusalem. There are many hostile religious and political leaders planning to get rid of Jesus who was perceived as a subversive. Jesus delays his departure purposely and in the meantime Lazarus dies of his illness.

When they finally arrive, Martha comes out to meet Jesus, at first chiding him for not arriving in time and telling him of Lazarus’s death. But she expresses faith that he might be able to do something, and Jesus tells her, that he is the resurrection and the life and if she believed, she would see the glory of the Lord.

Mary was in the house grieving and when she hears that Jesus has arrived she goes out to the tomb of her brother to meet him. I think she is acting in hope and faith, even in her grief. She too chides Jesus for arriving late to the situation. We see Jesus filling up with compassion and righteous indignation that death should have it’s way in the life of his friend. And he speaks the words of life—“Lazarus come forth.” A man buried in a tomb for 4 days, still exuding the stink of death walks out. The people are amazed and the religious and political leaders are angry, plotting with greater fervor to kill him—maybe Lazarus too.

Mary has encountered Jesus as the resurrection and the life when Jesus raised her brother from the dead.

What does it mean to encounter Jesus and his resurrection life today?

In many of our churches we speak often about the necessity of a new birth and what we mean by that is that each person in some way has experienced or begun to experience the resurrection life of Jesus at work in them.

For some of us, we had some kind of reviving encounter and met God in a real way. Maybe we prayed a prayer inviting Christ in to our lives. Or maybe we grew up in church always knowing that resurrection life, experiencing God in a variety of small ways that over time produced life in our inner being. Or we met him in crisis out of our powerful need—or alone in the quiet hours of the night—or perhaps, in our honest questions God has met us as mystery. Some of us can point to one vital experience, others of us have had many encounters with Jesus each one bringing transformation in a vital ways.

Scripture speaks of salvation as both an event and an on-going transformation. Story? I came to Christ as a small child…5 years old. But I encountered Christ in fresh ways at camp, in college, as a young mom, in my mid-thirties…and beyond… each one producing resurrection life and inviting greater transformation in my life. As have many of you.

Here is the point… A disciple is one who has encountered or is encountering Jesus Christ and his resurrection life. 

Second, a disciple is marked by devotion and gratitude to Christ… One giving one's self in full abandon. 

Mary reveals lavish devotion in her act of pouring oil on the feet of Christ and wiping it with her hair. She acts out of knowledge having experienced the resurrection life of Jesus and the healing of her brother.  Mary displays knowledge of the coming events. She gets what is happening and responds with her whole heart.

As a disciple she sat at the feet of Jesus. We encountered her in another story in which she chooses to learn… in the posture of a disciple at the feet of Jesus. So radical is her choice that her sister Martha chides her for not being with her in the kitchen. Mary crosses boundaries between male space and female space so that she can be taught of the Lord.

As disciple, she has connected the dots between what Christ has taught and what she has just experienced in her brothers healing. Jesus has been teaching and trying to help his sometimes thick-headed followers that he is on his way to die, he will be crucified, buried and raised from the dead. Mary understands… she get it and responds with her whole heart.

But there is more… She is filled with gratitude and devotion because of what Christ has done. And Mary behaves in a very strange way. She offers a most expensive possession…Nard… perhaps it was meant to pay her dowry upon marriage.  It is worth a years pay… $12,000.00 in our day. And she empties it in lavish love on the feet of Jesus.  What has she surrendered?  Her life? Possible marriage?  All to which she was attached?  Was she also considering herself a bride of Christ?

This was indeed odd—even improper… for a woman would not wash the feet of a man… this was seen as very intimate. Neither did she let down her hair in public as this too was to be done, only in the presence of a husband. Furthermore, Mary takes the seat of a servant… the ones in the household who would normally wash the feet of guests. Her devotion is speaking… that she has abandoned all else and freely chosen to serve Christ and him only. She is not concerned for social propriety… she is only concerned to express her devotion and gratitude by choosing to serve Christ with her whole life. 

A disciple is one who is freely devoted to God and worships with her whole heart.

A disciple is marked by a kind of devotion that is transformative and relational.  Because only within a deep and abiding relationship with Jesus can we truly know God.  And as within all relationships, we are changed by experiencing God personally.  I believe we know the Christ of the gospels as we encounter him there.  I believe we know him in the secret place of prayer and listening.

Third, a disciple is loyal to Christ. 

Judas was called a disciple in the bible but Mary actually behaves like one. For a disciple is loyal to Christ.

In our story, Judas is shown as a character with mixed loyalties. For one, he has issues with greed and openly criticizes Mary for her lavish outpouring of devotion. The author of this gospel charges him with pilfering from the money set aside for the poor. Judas is also depicted as one who thought he was following a military messiah who would deliver the people of God from the cruel hand of the Romans.  He was a loyal citizen to the nation, loyal to his own interests.

Mary is shown as loyal… offering her gift in complete abandon, caring not for social propriety, giving her life and perhaps even her dowry, in full trust to Christ. 

As the story continues to unfold, the disciples would profess loyalty but largely desert Jesus in his final hours. A disciple is loyal.  This reminds us of the Jesus Creed… Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, mind and soul.  In response to the lavish outpouring of God’s love in Christ, Mary opens her most precious gift and lavishly pours it out for him.

Discipleship is a walk of freedom in which resurrection life is born in our own hearts, it is a response to the lavish love of God. Discipleship is lived out in devotion and service as we bring that life to others. Finally Discipleship involves a life of single-hearted loyalty given to Christ alone.

Where do you find yourself in the story? 
How have you experienced the resurrection life of Christ.
How have you sought a political Messiah?
Can you find where you are in the trajectory of growth as a disciple?
Can you discern for yourself the places of disloyalty?  Places of attachment?

During this time of Lent, will you simply show your heart to God and ask for his resurrection life to transform you?

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