Pastor Jenny Lee, Ph.D.
Matthew 21:1-11; Mark14:3-9
“In Remembrance of Jesus’ Love”
More than 2000 years ago, many people crowded on the streets toward Jerusalem full of excitement. They gathered together at one place and shouted out together, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” They have seen Jesus process into Jerusalem in a kingly manner. Jesus has marched into the holy city on a path covered not by a red carpet but by the leaves of trees, riding not on a fine horse but on a little colt, and sitting not on a golden saddle but someone’s garments stinking with sweat. This parade, for the disciples, had still been much better than any other king’s procession.
Some of them, perhaps, tasted his miraculous bread and fish among five thousand people and wished for a kingdom, which would never be hungry. Some of them, perhaps, got healed of their illness by Jesus and hoped for a kingdom in which one would never be sick. Some of them had experienced oppression, exploitation and injustice and wished for a kingdom in which they would be liberated from their suffering. For some of them, perhaps, it was the first time they would see Jesus since they have heard the rumors about him. Surely, it was one of the greatest experiences for all of them since they first began following him. Of course, the disciples were there amidst all the uproar, walking right behind Jesus with pride and dignity.
Today, we are here, in front of the computer, in front of the phone, or reading a written sermon for worship God with Palm leaves or greeneries even though we couldn’t gather together in person. As many people welcomed Jesus, who entered into Jerusalem with palm leaves, we also welcome Jesus, who comes to our hearts as our Lord. Today is Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday. We remember it is Palm Sunday rather than Passion Sunday. Technically, it is Palm Sunday today, and Monday through Saturday, it is the week of the Passion of Jesus, or it is called the Holy Week. The Passion of Jesus Christ began while people and his disciples were excited for a new kingdom in the world. We know what they didn’t know. We commemorate God’s redeeming work through Jesus’ suffering, death on the cross, and resurrection. Today, in remembrance of Jesus’ love, let’s live out his will and teachings in daily life.
Several days later, Jesus and his disciples gathered at the home of Simon, the leper. While some may have wondered why he chose a leper’s house for dinner, it’s not surprising when we remember that Jesus’ best friends were outcasts such as the blind, the mute, the demon-possessed, and tax collectors. Indeed, Jesus was the hero of such marginalized people. He healed their diseases, liberated them from their sins, and restored their relationship with God and other people. It was no wonder then that people such as these followed Jesus and supported him as the king of Jews. They had great hopes and expectations that Jesus would one day overturn the unjust political structures of their day and establish a new kingdom in which the upper classes no longer exploited the underclass but instead shared their benefits with them. Although the people and Jesus’ disciples believed that the new kingdom might be established by Jesus’ miraculous power, on the other hand, Jesus had repeatedly told his disciples that he would suffer and die on a cross and then immediately rise from the dead. But somehow, they never understood his words. Perhaps, they didn’t want to understand because of the fullness of their own thoughts about such a new kingdom.
Do you remember when Jesus first told about his death and resurrection in Caesarea Philippi? Peter was very distressed and took him aside and rebuked him, “Teacher, please don’t say these things. See this huge crowd following you. No one wants you to die like that. We don’t understand the resurrection. Please don’t confuse us with such silly words” (Mark 8:31-21, paraphrased.). When the disciples were on the way to Jerusalem, Jesus again talked about his death and resurrection. But no one paid attention to it. Instead, James and his brother John came forward and said, “Teacher, when you become the king of Israel, please let us sit at your right and left hands in your glory” (Matthew 20:20-21). Once, twice, three times… Jesus yet again reminded them that God’s salvation would be fulfilled by his suffering and death on the cross and his resurrection from death. However, they could not understand what he was saying because of their vested interests and prejudiced minds.
Because they had consistently ignored or misunderstood Jesus’ teachings about his suffering and death, I rather imagine that the disciples in the house of Simon, the leper were still in an excited mood as they talked about the blueprint for a new kingdom. As long as Jesus was with them, working miracles as he had done before, like feeding five thousand people with two fish and five loaves of bread, they could even think that their revolutionary kingdom would be prosperous. Jesus, on the other hand, knew that his time was near the end. His disciples would soon betray him, handing him over to the chief priests and the scribes. The religious authorities would condemn him, spit on him, flog him and kill him on a cross. The crowd who now followed him because of his miraculous power would soon scatter, hiding like scared cats, disheartened by his death. Even God, his Father, would be silent in this time of suffering in order to give him the name that was above every name. Who would know this mind of Jesus? He would say to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” as he did at Gethsemane (Matthew 26:38).
At that moment, something very strange happened in the house of the leper. A woman entered the room where Jesus and his disciples were sitting. She entered a place reserved for men only. In the middle of their conversation, a woman came in the room boldly and unabashedly, holding an alabaster jar. Disregarding the disciples’ embarrassment over her interruption, she then broke the jar and poured the costly ointment on Jesus’ head. Recovering from their surprise, some of the disciples grumbled to one another, “Why was the ointment wasted in this way?” “Woman, don’t you know how costly it is? It’s worth three hundred denarii (One year’s salary for an adult man)! If you had given that to us, we could have sold it and given the money to the poor. What a foolish thing you did!” (Mark 14:4-5, paraphrased). However, Jesus’ response to her and to them was quite different and amazing, “She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial.” She has prepared him for his death. While no one else understood his death and resurrection, she understood him. She is the only person who prepared for his death. In Jewish custom, the dead body was anointed with fragrant spices before burial. But Jesus’ body would have no opportunity for anointing before his burial. The woman’s symbolic action, then, prepared Jesus for his death. Jesus said, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.
We don’t know about her, but we know her love for Jesus in the right way. Her act reminded them the kingdom of God does not come by miraculous works of power. Instead, it comes through the self-sacrificing love of God. Jesus’ kingly procession led to humiliation and to death, even death on a cross. Yet it was through such obedience that Jesus became the king of kings, the promised Messiah. This is the way of God’s salvation. Today, we have gathered around Jesus. We have many things to do during this gathering: discuss politics, social issues, and economics, talk about our children’s education and church policies, plan mission projects and fellowship events, and so on. But what we really need is the fragrance that reminds us of the suffering and death of Christ. Do we have the mind of Jesus? The way of disciples is the way of Golgotha, imitating Christ’s humility. In remembrance of Jesus’ love, let us walk with God humbly. Thanks be to God. Amen!