The audio of this homily is available on the Saint Paul’s website, or you can read on.
It is Wednesday and by now everybody in Jerusalem knows who Jesus is. The crowds have been growing as the Passover Feast approaches. By now there are as many as two-and-a-half million tourists jammed into the old city. The faithful from all over the known world have come to remember when God saved them from slavery in Egypt. Each year, the Passover Feast is a time ripe with national pride and not a little bit of trepidation. Every year the people wonder, will this be the year that God once again delivers us from the hands of our oppressors. This year, everybody is wondering, will Jesus be the guy?
It has been weeks, maybe even months, since Peter first confessed Jesus as the Messiah. Lots of water has flowed under the bridge since James and John tried to cozy up to the right and left of Jesus in his kingdom, but the memory of that parade is still very fresh. The palms lay drying in the gutters. If you listen carefully, you can hear the shouts of Hosanna still echoing down the narrow streets. And that scene on Monday – Jesus with a whip, raging against an unjust temple system. “Just who does he think he is?” the people wondered. “Just who do you think you are?” the Temple Authorities asked. But honestly, by now everybody knows that Jesus is…
By now everybody knows that Jesus is the promised one. By now everybody knows that Jesus is the anointed king of Israel. The Temple Authorities know it, which is why they want to get rid of him. The crowds sense it, that’s why the whole city is a-buzz with expectation. The unnamed woman in Bethany knows it and so does Judas Iscariot, but it means very different things to each of them. For the woman at Bethany, Jesus is the long awaited king who has come to set God’s people free. That hope compels here to seek him out and to pour out extravagance upon him. The jar of nard she breaks open to anoint Jesus is worth upwards of thirty-thousand dollars. The disciples are right, it could have fed any number of the poor and outcast that came seeking them every moment of every day, but Jesus tells us the woman is right in what she has done. She has come to offer Jesus her all. She has come to lay down her expectations of what the Messiah should be and simply anoint Jesus as king of her life. Judas, on the other hand, is unwilling to give up his expectations. He too knows that Jesus is the Messiah, but by allowing this woman to anoint him for burial, Jesus has declared that he is really is going to die. For Judas, dying is not an option. Judas won’t let Jesus slow play the coming of his kingdom. No, Judas is going to force Jesus’ hand. If Jesus gets arrested, he’ll have no choice but to show who he really is, to take up force and to overthrow the Temple Authorities and their puppeteers from Rome. Jesus isn’t the king of Judas’ life because Judas wants things done on his terms. Judas chooses his own selfish desires over the promised kingdom of God.
Of course, Judas is not alone. Every day each of us has a choice. Every day we are given the opportunity to live for ourselves or to live for God. Every day we have the chance to anoint Jesus as king of our lives or to once again betray him to the cross. The Church in Philippi was struggling with this choice as Paul appealed to them to choose the kingdom. When you are thinking about whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, and whatever is commendable there is no time to be thinking about your own selfish desires. When your mind is fixed on the kingdom of God, there is no room for thoughts of self. Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. He came to restore the whole world to right relationship with God. He came that we might have life and have it more abundantly. He came that we might be committed to him as king of our lives. The woman at Bethany is remembered because she chose wisely. Judas is remembered because he did not. Which will you choose?