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Eyes on Jesus: Misjudging Eyes

February 26, 2020
By Rev. Peter Heckert

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Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation comes from our Gospel text, where Mark records Jesus’s words, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

My apologies if, when I was distributing the ashes, some of it landed on your nose or, even worse, by your eyes. Can you imagine getting these ashes in your eyes? If it happened, you wouldn’t be able to see clearly – I think there’s a sermon illustration in that. Truth is, our inborn sinfulness is like ashes to our spiritual vision: we look at what is good and distort its purpose, or we look upon what is beautiful and misjudge its value.

It’s what we do as sinners, and we see it readily throughout Scripture. In Matthew 6, Jesus says, “When you give to the needy ….” He is assuming that Christians will do this, and since He would never want us to do something evil, then giving to the needy must be a good thing to do. But sinners misjudge the purpose of such good deeds. Further, He criticizes the hypocrites in the synagogues and in the streets for conspicuously giving to the needy in order to be praised by others. Likewise, they prayed long-winded prayers and made a show of fasting in order to be seen by others. In being praised by others, they receive their desired reward: to be held in high esteem by others. This is an entirely self-serving and godless approach to good works, because it pays no thought to our Father in heaven.

Our old Adam misjudges. Sin’s deep delusion is that good works must be done in order to merit eternal life. That is the worst misjudgment we can make. Which is why Ash Wednesday is a much-needed reality-check, convicting us through Scripture and hymnody and liturgy of our utter wretchedness and desperate need for God’s forgiveness. What we need most isn’t to give to the needy or do any other good work. We need the Lamb of God to take away our sins. That’s what Ash Wednesday is about, and tonight’s reading from Mark’s gospel account takes us to Him when he begins, “It was now two days before the Passover. . . . And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest Him by stealth and kill Him.”

The Passover and Passion were just a few days away. Jesus knew this and had repeatedly told His disciples that His death was drawing near. But unlike Jesus, the guests at Simon’s dinner party didn’t have their mind on the cross when an uninvited woman barged in, broke open a jar of perfume, and dumped it on Jesus’s head. Alabaster flasks weren’t cheap and could be reused, but she clumsily smashes it open and renders it useless for the future. And I don’t picture her slowly and gently pouring it on Jesus’s head but drenching him, leaving Him blinking to squeeze out the drops falling into His eyes.

Then there’s the value of the ointment. If it really could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, it would have been roughly a year’s wages for a day laborer. At the modest wage of $12.50 an hour that you can get at most fast food restaurants, three hundred days’ wages convert to $30,000. That’s what the guests at Simon’s dinner were saying among themselves, outraged at the woman’s wastefulness, indignant that so many would go hungry because of her impulsiveness. “What’s wrong with you, woman? Are you out of your mind? You should have sold that perfume and given the money to the poor!” But they had misjudging eyes.

Jesus, however, always sees clearly. He comes to the woman’s defense and tells her critics to back off. Jesus recognizes her clumsy, unceremonious, impulsive action as a beautiful work, as preparation for the most beautiful, noble, good deed in human history: His suffering, death, and burial. It is good to give to the needy, to do good to the poor. But when the incarnate Son of God is sitting at your dinner table preparing to suffer and die for the sin of the world in a couple of days and then be hastily entombed without proper anointing at His burial, then three hundred denarii worth of ointment is no waste but is rightly devoted to His service.

What the dinner guests could not see was the sheer uniqueness, the tremendous weight of the moment they were witnessing. For God’s Anointed, the Messiah, was soon to give His life as a ransom for the masses, to be the once-for-all Passover Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. This moment was anything but business as usual, even in moral terms.

And, in Holy Baptism, you have been washed in the blood of that Lamb, anointed with the Holy Spirit to sanctify you and make you pleasing to the Father. The beautiful robe of Christ’s righteousness has become yours, so that you need no longer fear eternal damnation in hell. The power of sin, death, and Satan has been shattered like that broken alabaster flask, and you have been liberated from the realm of darkness to live forever in the Kingdom of Life! For the rest of your earthly lives, you’re free to love God with all your heart and to love your neighbor as yourself!

That’s what the unnamed woman was doing, and her motivation has to have been faith in Jesus and love for Him, since Jesus solemnly states, “Truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” She was an integral part of the gospel story being fulfilled, and the Gospel is always about forgiveness of sins being received by faith.

Now you may have noticed that Mark does not name who this woman was. I think this was deliberate, because at that moment, she was not the point—Jesus and His salvific work were. Her anonymity also teaches us about how to approach good works. “She has done what she could,” Jesus says. She simply lived out her vocation, and on that day, she was called to do the beautiful work of anointing Jesus beforehand for His burial. She did not do it to be praised or seen by others, nor was she seeking a reward, but she had eyes only for Jesus.

You also are called to do what you can in your various vocations, in whatever situation the Lord puts you each day. You are set free from the enslaving misjudgment that you should do good works either to be praised by men or to be justified by God. In Christ, you receive temporal and eternal rewards that you could never earn, by grace alone. That takes all the pressure off and places you under His easy yoke and light burden. So on this Ash Wednesday, and every day, repent and believe the Gospel. And then rejoice that you have been judged forgiven and righteous in the eyes of the One who judges justly!

+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

Tags: Mark 14:1-9