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John 12:1-8                              

“The Wisdom to Choose the Good”

I want to start with something funny. I learned about this story from an internet site. A mother was preparing pancakes for her sons, Kevin, 5, and Ryan, 3. The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake. Their mother saw the opportunity for a moral lesson and said, “If Jesus were sitting here, He would say, ‘Let my brother have the first pancake, I can wait.” Kevin turned to his younger brother and said, “Ryan, you be Jesus!”

Today, I want to talk about “The wisdom to choose the good.” We face several moments everyday where we have to make choices. Sometimes it might be a little thing, such as what we are going to eat for breakfast, lunch, and supper; or which clothes we will wear. Sometimes it might be a big deal, something like which school we would like to go to; which job we would like to choose; which house we would buy, etc. Furthermore, there are things we choose unconsciously. For example, we unconsciously take a seat at the same pew every Sunday. When you come to the sanctuary every Sunday morning, you likely do not hesitate about which pew you would like to sit in. It is because you are used to sitting in that the same spot. The “unconscious choices” we choose in everyday life might not have been very important to begin with, but eventually they become a center of our lives, attitude, and characters. In other words, our unconscious choices somehow show who we are. Here is an example. Depending on where you sit in the sanctuary or in the restaurant, we can consider your character. If you are an extrovert, you may choose it at the front or close to the altar or in an open space in a restaurant. If you are an introvert, you may select it in the corner or the seat in the back. I don’t mean which pew you should sit. My point is that it is essential wisdom to choose the good in daily life. At first, try to choose the good intentionally, as if you were choosing fresh fruits in the grocery store. It eventually guides you into wise lives in both spirit and physics.

The Founder of Methodism, John Wesley, emphasized “the Holy Habit” in daily life. He tried to make a schedule of praying, reading the scripture, studying the Bible, receiving communion, joining small groups, fasting regularly, and visiting the poor and the sick. He was a very scheduled person. For that reason, he was called “A Methodist.” We may call his habit “the Holy Discipline.” As Christians, we need “the Holy Disciplines.” The Apostle Paul says, “Have nothing to do with profane myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself in godliness, for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7-8). Some of you already have some kinds of “holy disciplines” like “family disciplines.” I hope you may share your holy disciplines with your friends, children, and grandchildren, including the benefits.

Let’s see how our unconscious choice affects our spiritual lives through today’s scripture. The story in the scripture happens six days before the Passover. The Passover is the big Holiday for Jews to celebrate their exodus from Egypt. It is a celebration of their salvation from the life of slavery and death by the grace of God. Ironically, six days later, at the Passover, they killed the Son of God on the Cross without knowing who Jesus was. Anyway, today’s story is about a party for Jesus Christ. They might plan a party for Jesus because he had raised Lazarus from the dead. In today’s scripture, there are four people: Martha, Mary, Lazarus, and Juda Iscariot. Some images about Martha and Mary come to your mind as soon as you hear their names. The characteristics we know of these two are that Mary likes to listen to Jesus’ teaching or preaching in front of him, and Martha likes to work in the kitchen. But is it true Martha wanted to work and chose to work instead of listening to Jesus’ words?

You may remember the story about when Martha worked hard; Mary was listening to Jesus sitting in front of his feet in the Gospel Luke 10:40-42. “Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is a need for only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’” According to the scripture, Mary had already chosen to listen to Jesus’ words, but Martha couldn’t choose to do that yet. She was distracted because she couldn’t make a choice on which one she would do first. She couldn’t understand Mary’s concentration on the choice she had already made. Jesus saying helps us to understand that situation. Jesus called her name two times, “Martha, Martha.” It helped her calm down. And Jesus said, “You are worried and distracted by many things; there is a need for only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” Before we choose something, we are confused or worried, but after we make a choice, we may feel comfortable.

Mary has chosen what her priority would be in her daily life. Her priority was to listen to Jesus’ words. It might become her holy discipline. Her disciplines guided her into her wise life. Therefore, in today’s scripture, she comes to Jesus first, according to her holy disciplines. She “took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wipe them with her hair” (12:3). According to the Israelite’s custom, the perfume Mary used is what women prepare for their wedding, which means that it is costly and very precious for their wedding. However, Mary chose to use it for Jesus, not her wedding. She had the wisdom to choose the good. What about Martha? Martha was distracted by the many things she had to do, but she was also growing in the wisdom to choose the good. Without bother or worry, she chose to serve Jesus’ table. The better part for her was “which will not be taken away from her.” Her serving table became the meaningful servanthood and a good model for lay leadership.

And the scripture says, “Lazarus was one of those at the table with him.” Lazarus chose to have meals with Jesus like one of the guests. His choice was that he not do anything, but enjoy the food and event that were provided by someone who worked hard. Now, let’s see Judas Iscariot, the last person among the four people in today’s scripture. His role in the disciples of Jesus was the treasurer. He unconsciously or consciously thought of the perfume’s cost first. However, as the scripture says, his care was not about the poor, but because he was a thief. As keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. He was like a person who was looking for benefits from the community and friends by pretending to do good. What kinds of characters do you prefer? I hope that you stand on the way of growing in wisdom to choose the good.

In conclusion, I want to share the wisdom of an indigenous American chief: There are two wolves in the human heart. One is a white wolf; the other is a black wolf. Two wolves keep fighting in our hearts. Black wolves are evil, full of anger, jealousy, sadness, regret, arrogance, lies, vail pride, and represent our false selves that arise in our hearts. The white wolf is good, like joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, generosity, truth, and faith. The same fight is happening to everyone. The chief informed his grandson. His grandson asked. “which wolf wins? Who do you think will win?” The chief answered his grandson. “whichever you feed, that one will win.”

So, I wonder which wolf are you feeding? The choice will lead you in your present life and the future ahead. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Pastor Jenny