March 13, 2016 sermon
Spoiled with Love
Have you ever loved someone so completely and till your heart felt wasted that you could have given them anything in the world? Ok, that was a stupid question since most of you are parents. So assuming that most of your answers would be “yes”, I will continue. This person or persons whom you love so completely, have you ever thought you were spoiling them, been accused by someone else that you were spoiling them, or been highly tempted to spoil them? I remember my mother accusing my father of spoiling me when I was a kid. I don’t know what it actually feels like to be a parent; but I have been in love, and I have loved the many children I have taught in my teaching career. I also have a small group of friends I love so dearly that I feel I can do anything for them. So I have a good idea of what that temptation feels like, the temptation to spoil someone you love.
Having thought of this sermon title “Spoiled with Love”, I instantly thought of two literary characters from the same author. Francis Hodgson Burnett wrote beloved children’s books such as The Secret Garden (my favorite children’s book), A Little Princess, and Little Lord Fauntleroy. Mary Lenox from The Secret Garden and Sara Crewe from A Little Princess are both from wealthy families, and both were spoiled. But there is a difference in how they were spoiled, which caused a very different result. Mary had everything she wanted but her parents didn’t care about her at all. The only way she could be controlled was by letting her have her own way in everything. So she became a very spoiled and unpleasant child that nobody likes. Sara on the other hand, although she had everything she wanted, she was also spoiled with her father’s love. This one became a loving child that everyone likes. I tend to believe that since she was spoiled with genuine love, she was able to share that love with people in her life, as opposed to Mary who had never received love as a little child. But in case you don’t know the story of The Secret Garden, don’t worry, Mary doesn’t remain unpleasant for too long. Spoiler alert. Happy ending.
In today’s gospel story, we meet another Mary. There are so many different Mary’s in the Bible that we might be confused, but this one is the sister of Lazarus (who was revived from death) and Martha. This story comes almost immediately after the resurrection of Lazarus. We know these sisters Mary and Martha as some of the women who loved and followed Jesus. They already loved him, then he raised their brother from death. He became their superhero! You can imagine how much their love for Jesus must have increased! Mary brings very very expensive scented oil, anoints the feet of Jesus with it, and then wipes them with her hair. There are two things that she does here that are out of the ordinary; first she anoints the feet and not the face like a normal person. Second, she let her hair down in public, which is considered improper. Then Judas judges her behavior saying she could have used that money to help the poor instead of wasting it on what he considers to be unnecessary. What I find a bit shocking in the way the author of John’s gospel tells Judas’ part in the story is that he says “this is the man who will later betray Jesus”. What? What kind of a spoiler is that for the readers? If I had been one of the first readers of this gospel and read this part, I would have been like, “Mr. Author, why are you doing this to us? Why would you be so cruel and spoil the story for us? Why do you hate us?”
But since the author of the gospel thinks very poorly of Judas for betraying Jesus, he is being presented as a petty thief who is judgemental of Mary’s beautiful act of love for Jesus. It seems to me like Mary, full of love for Jesus (which looks a little bit suspicious, since she almost seems to be in love with him), doesn’t care how much the oil cost or how improper her behavior is in public. Now, that’s love! Maybe we can all relate to her, or at least understand her?
Now about what she did to Jesus in today’s story, the author of the gospel gives a theological interpretation that it was to prepare Jesus’ burial, since Jesus will soon go to Jerusalem and be killed. But for Mary, it was an act of her all-consuming and almost uncontrollable love. “I love Jesus with all my heart; I wouldn’t spare anything for him! Ain’t no mountain high enough, ain’t no valley low enough, ain’t no river wide enough to keep me from getting to you! Ain’t no oil expensive enough, ain’t no social propriety important enough for you!” This is a woman who knows how to love; she’s doing it right.
We are listening to this story during Lent, right before Palm Sunday and the passion of Jesus. In this specific context, Mary’s act of love reminds us of God’s love for us. We are about to enter Jerusalem with Jesus and journey to his cross with him. Through Jesus’ ministry of love and justice, we can feel how much God cares for us. Through Jesus’ obedience to God till the end (and we all know, it didn’t end well for him as a human), we can feel how much Jesus loved God and bore God’s all-consuming love for humanity. There was nothing Mary would have spared for her beloved Jesus. There is nothing God would spare for us, God’s beloved people. Jesus dedicated his life preaching and living out this love of God, and died for it. For the remainder of Lent, as we experience this complete and all-consuming love of God through the ministry and death of Jesus, let us remind ourselves that it is our job as disciples to imitate Jesus. Think of the love you bear your children. Now double it, triple it, and quadruple it. I’m quite bad at math so I don’t know what comes after you quadruple it, but I think you get the idea; this is how much God loves us. According to the traditional narrative of the church, “God loved us so much that he didn’t even spare his only son.”
As people of God who have received this kind of all-consuming and complete love, what should our response be? Jesus embodied and taught this love to us in his lifetime on earth. If we call ourselves disciples, we are to imitate Jesus in our lifetime on earth. We should receive God’s all-consuming love to bear our fellow humans. Are they hungry? Are they thirsty? Are they alienated economically, racially, or sexually? Our heart should break and we should do something about it. We should spare our time, energy, and knowledge in spreading our love and compassion for humanity, like God who didn’t spare God’s only son, like Mary who didn’t spare the most expensive oil to anoint Jesus (and her propriety that went down the sewer with it).
This week, before we enter Jerusalem with Jesus, let us ask God to give us the same kind of divine love that spoiled us, that we may spoil our fellow humans with it. As we learned from Francis Hodgson Burnett, not all spoiling is bad. If we spoil with true and healthy love, that love becomes contagious. This week, may we be filled with God’s spoiling love, and in return, may we learn to spoil each other with the same love. Amen.
Rev. Sunny Kim