Love is the Motivation for Giving
John 12:1-8 Isaiah 43:16-21
Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem to die. On the way, at Bethany in the home of his friends Martha, Mary and Lazarus whom he had raised from the dead, Jesus had a meal. The disciples were there too: quite a gathering. Jesus knew that death awaited him in Jerusalem.
At least one other person there knew what was going to happen to Jesus: Mary.
She did a most remarkable thing. She took a jar, half a litre of very expensive perfume and poured it all over Jesus’ feet, then wiped his feet with her hair.
Extraordinary, Unexpected and for Mary quite degrading. First, the task of washing feet was that of a slave. Second, no self-respecting lady would unloose her hair at dinner.
Whether Mary was fully aware of what she was doing we don't know. But Jesus interpreted that action as anointing in preparation for his burial.
Now imagine you were at dinner that day. You had enjoyed the hospitality of Martha, fussy Martha, Mary, pensive Mary and Lazarus, probably still bewildered about being raised form the dead. And who wouldn't be?
You witness Mary's irrational, impulsive (perhaps) act of extravagance.
How do you respond?
Do you say "Look what Mary has done. What a wonderful act of kindness and love?"
Do you remain silent, not sure of what is going on?
Or do you react like Judas "Why wasn’t this perfume sold for 300 silver coins and the money given to the poor?" (John 12:5)
Judas probably thought Mary to be a fool to be so extravagant
We might think Judas' reaction was because he had a genuine interest in the poor. But John's footnote tells us that he was the treasurer and also a thief who helped himself to the moneybag.
Jesus concluded this little scene with words which I believe have been often misinterpreted ever since.
7Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’
Many people have interpreted that to mean that it's OK to spend money extravagantly on beautiful churches, stained glass windows, pipe organs and so on. After all we are doing this for Jesus.
What I believe Jesus was saying is this.
"There will always be poor people to help and it is good and right that you help them in every way.
For this one time, and for this one time only, Mary has done a beautiful thing. She has anointed me in preparation for my burial. She has done this now and this loving act can only be done once."
"In the future," I believe Jesus is saying, "you will have plenty of poor people to help and it is good and right that you should help them."
Perhaps Jesus was saying. "This is OK for Mary, but for you and the church in the future you can better spend money by giving to the poor".
If we combine this passage with one in Matthew's Gospel we find that by giving to the poor we are in fact giving to Jesus
"I tell you whenever you did this for one of the least important brothers or sisters of mine, you did it for me!" (Matthew 25:40)
Giving to the poor is one of the characteristics of the Christian Church
In the Autumn 2019 issue of Journey Simon Gomersall writes about the characteristics of the early Church. He lists seven factors which were marks of the early Church.
One of these is Philanthropy. ‘Christians had a reputation to serve the world, often at great cost and risk to themselves and this became an important apologetic.’ (p29)
In other words, giving to the poor was a key characteristic of the early Church. And we maintain that today.
For example, Lent Event, which Uniting church members often support is an excellent way of combining the discipline of Lent with reflection on how we assist the poor, especially the people of East Timor, Timor Leste.
We ask what motivates Christian people to give to the poor?
The key word is ‘love’. It was out of her great love for Jesus that Mary anointed Jesus. And it was not a sexual or romantic love that motived her. Here was the man who had the key to eternal life and out of love was giving himself for humankind.
There is a story told about Karl Barth, one of the greatest theologians of the 20th Century. One time he addressed a group of students in the US, in Chicago. At the question time afterwards one of the students asked: ‘Dr Barth, can you summarize your whole life’s work in one sentence?’ Silence fell over that crowded lecture hall as Karl Barth lifted his head and referred to a hymn he had learned at his Mother’s knee ‘Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.’
Jesus loves me. Jesus loves you. Jesus loves the whole world. It was the great love of God that sent Jesus into the world.
‘The great love of God is revealed in the Son,
Who came to this earth to redeem every one’ (DT Niles, TiS 164)
And we respond to that great love. The greatest command is to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. Our whole being. We respond to that love by our devotion and love for Jesus.
Mary responded by anointing Jesus in readiness for burial. We can’t repeat that once and for all event. But we can love the poor.
The second greatest c
ommand is to love our neighbour, who through the story of the Good Samaritan we find to be people who are different, those in trouble, foreigners, the poor and so on.
We respond to that love of God by acts of justice, by giving to the poor.
In our communion services we make confession. Notice how often we confess that we have not loved. We have disobeyed the command of God and not love him with our whole heart and we have not loved our neighbours as ourselves.
Often our lack of love is not intentional but often through ignorance. We are not aware of how our neighbours are being mistreated and therefore we go along with that mistreatment.
Think of the commodities we purchase, especially tea, coffee and chocolate. Think of the gifts we buy people and the clothes we wear.
Have you ever wondered why some things are so cheap? Have you ever wondered how much a worker in a factory in Bangladesh gets paid for a T shirt we think is a bargain for $10.00? 40 cents. Not enough for basic needs, not a living wage.
What about those who work on plantations producing the raw materials which become processed and packaged as our tea, coffee and chocolate? Were children used in that process? Were people paid a fair and living wage?
From the World Vision website:
With Easter upon us, supermarket shelves are full with delicious chocolatey treats. But the challenge for us as consumers is finding a “good egg”.
Much of the world’s cocoa is harvested in West Africa, using some of the worst forms of child labour
In fact, around 95 percent of the chocolate sold today is not certified to be free from the use of forced, child or trafficked labour.
Many children and adults harvest cocoa for global consumption. Often families live in poverty and children must work to support their family. Typically, adult farmers are paid poorly for the cocoa they harvest.
Children as young as six work on cocoa farms under extremely hazardous conditions: carrying heavy loads, using machetes to clear land, and inhaling harmful pesticides. In some cases, children are trafficked and forced to harvest cocoa.’ (World Vision website)
With the Fairtrade Mark, we can be sure of three things:
1. that workers were well paid. A Fair Wage. We all expect that. A fair days pay for a fair day’s work.
2. they worked in healthy conditions, not in buildings that are threatening to collapse as we saw in Bangladesh where 1100 garment workers were killed a few years ago
3. and the goods are produced environmentally sustainable ways.
For many Fairtrade may be a new concept, especially as it relates to the justice dimension of the Gospel and the poor.
Let the prophet Isaiah have the last word from our OT reading today.
18 Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. 19 I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
The new thing might be a commitment to the poor through fair trade and ethical shopping.
This video sums it up. The currency is Euros and they talk about things such as bananas and wine which we produce in Australia where our labour laws ensure fair wages and conditions.