The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke have many of the same stories in similar order. Some details may be different, but they are recognizable as being the same stories from different points of view. Matthew and Mark tell this story about a woman anointing Jesus’ feet in similar detail and in the same order before the Last Supper. Luke, however, tells a similar story in a different context, with different details and in a different point in the story of Jesus’ ministry. If you want to read Luke 7 for how Luke tells his version of the story, you might compare it to Mark which we read today. For the purpose of this morning’s sermon, I’d like to focus on the story the way Matthew and Mark tell it.
Jesus had already entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey with fans waving palms and shouting, “Hosanna,” as we started the service this morning. Between the triumphal entry to Jerusalem and the story of the woman anointing Jesus’ head, Jesus and His disciples have been traveling back and forth between Jerusalem and Bethany. Once Jesus’ entered Jerusalem, the Scripture tells us it was dark and getting late so he retired to Bethany. Over the next couple of days, Jesus has gone into Jerusalem to teach.
If the triumphal entrance into Jerusalem was Sunday, our story about the woman anointing Jesus is set on Tuesday night, 2 days before the Passover. The Last Supper will be Thursday and Jesus’ death on Friday. Our Tuesday night dinner is the beginning of the end. Judas slips out of dinner to go to the chief priests to set the terms of his bribe to betray Jesus.
On Tuesday night, Jesus was in Bethany at the home of Simon the Leper. A woman came in to anoint Jesus’ head. 1st Century hospitality rituals would dictate that the host greet the guest with a kiss, wash his feet and give him oil for his head. There may have been some disrespect on the part of the host for not having already given Jesus oil to anoint His head. The unnamed woman comes in with a jar of very expensive perfume. The host would have met basic hospitality customs by offering Jesus simple olive oil. This woman pays Jesus great honor by giving Him expensive perfumed oil. The best I can tell oil for one’s head might sooth the sunburn on one’s face after being in the sun all day and may have refreshed the guest’s hair which may be windblown and dusty.
This unnamed woman broke her jar of oil and poured it on Jesus’ head. As the Scriptures note, this was very expensive perfumed oil. It was worth a year’s pay. The others at dinner ridiculed her for wasting the oil. It could have been sold and the money given to the poor. Jesus said that what she had done was noble because she was preparing Him for burial.
The oil is likely the only thing this unnamed woman had. She decided Jesus was worth everything she had. At some point, the woman decided to go all-in. She sacrificed everything she had and gave it all to Jesus.
I might make a comparison to athletes making an all-in sacrifice and commitment to the sport they love. This might be a good time for this analogy given that we are in the midst of March Madness and waiting for the beginning of baseball season.
I’m not going to touch Illini basketball with this analogy. Since I’m a University of Kentucky fan, I’ll go with UK Wildcats basketball. I think of the sacrifices the UK basketball players make and the commitment they give to the sport when they accept a scholarship to the University of Kentucky. They are not going to have a “normal” college experience if they are going to play ball. They are not going to be going to keggers at the frat houses. They won’t be up all night playing video games. They won’t be skipping early morning classes. They won’t be eating pizza in the dining hall every day.
When these Wildcat ball players make the commitment, they know they have to go all-in if they are going to compete well in the NCAA championship and be drafted to the NBA at the end of their freshman year. They have to make a commitment to studying, not slacking. They make a commitment to eating well, not binging on junk food. They have less free time to play Grand Theft Auto, because they’re going to be in the gym a lot. Their all-in commitment to basketball means they will sacrifice a “normal” college experience to spend time strength training, endurance training and improving their skills so that at the end of the season they can say they did their best and played their hardest.
I guess it’s the same with baseball players. Our favorite Cards and Cubbies players, at some point in their career, made an all-in commitment to the sport they love. Each one of those players made a commitment and sacrificed something to pursue playing at a professional level. Collegiate and professional athletes can’t just be the best technical players. There’s a place where technical skill is surpassed by passion for a player to become truly great.
And, so it is with our faith. We make sacrifices in order to make a commitment to Jesus Christ. We sacrifice our Sunday mornings that could be spent sleeping in or doing this or that. We come to church to worship God and fellowship with other Christians. We sacrifice some of our free time to devote ourselves to Christ in prayer and reading our Bible. We sacrifice some of our free time to participate in Bible study, prayer group, and outreach ministries.
But, it is not enough that we know what the Bible says. It’s not enough that we can make nice platitudes or say rote prayers. There is a level of passion that we each have that keeps us committed to Christ and following Him.
The people gathered around the streets waving palms and shouting, “Hosanna,” needed to decide if they would be fans or make a commitment and become followers. At this dinner on Tuesday evening, the people gathered will making up their minds about becoming a follower of Christ. The real challenge will be who will follow Jesus to the cross. This woman, at dinner, has decided she’s all-in.
We have to decide. It’s not a decision we make just once. Making a commitment to Christ, like any commitment we make, you have to do the work of waking up every day and saying, “I’m in this.” Like a husband saying every morning, “today, I’m going to be the husband my wife deserves,” or a mother saying, “I’m going to be the mother my kids think I am,” a Christian says, every morning, “I’m going to follow Jesus today.” Every morning, we make all-in commitments to the people that matter most to us. Christ must be one.
This Lenten season, I’ve intended to challenge you. We’ve been asking questions of Jesus:
“Can I Be Last?”,
“What Must I Do to Inherit Eternal Life?”,
“May I Sit At Your Right Hand?”,
“What Will the Vineyard Workers Do?”,
“Whose Son is the Messiah?”,
“What Will These Things Happen?”, and
“May I Anoint Your Head?”
In each case, I’ve offered a question Jesus might ask us in turn:
“What Are You Willing to Give Up?”
“What Will You Do Next?”,
“Will You Produce a Harvest?”,
“Will You Care About What I Care About?”,
“Will You Fight for My Church?”
As we ask, “May I anoint your head?”, Jesus may ask, “Are you all-in like this woman?” All the questions this Lenten season have led up to this challenge. Are we all in?
Have we considered what will be required of us if we’re going to do the stuff we said we’d do in our ministry plan?
There is a lot of energy and commitment at the Board level. There is a lot of activity around the church and excitement about the things we’re doing. I see lots of evidence that many are in the game.
Let’s go back to sports. A fan is enthusiastic. A fan comes to church. A follower, we’re called to be a follower, not a fan, of Jesus, a follower is going to get in the game. A follower is going to show signs of commitment to God’s vision for the church.
I know we all have different gifts and abilities, but there is some way everyone can get involved. Here are a few ideas:
• Call Trudy about doing a thank-you basket for one of our local businesses,
• Place a bag of candy in the basket in the East Room before Saturday,
• Come to the Easter Egg Hunt,
• Bring a lily to place at the foot of the cross for next Sunday,
• Sign up to be on the prayer chain if you’re not already,
• Donate food to the food pantry,
• Make a dessert for the Cantata tonight,
• Come to the Cantata tonight,
• Come to Prayer group on Wednesday morning,
• Come to Bible study on Thursday mornings, or
• Go the Good Friday or Easter sunrise community services.
We’re going to have plenty more opportunities to get involved in the next couple months. Show you’re all-in and participate in the work of the church as we seek to fulfill God’s vision. All-in. Amen.