Revised Common Lectionary: Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126; Philippians 3:4b-14; John 12:1-8
Narrative Lectionary: Jesus Condemned, John 19:1-16a (Psalm 146)
The prophet Isaiah speaks to the people returning from exile on behalf of God in Isaiah 43:16-21 that God will make a way for them. As God made a way for the people in the Exodus out of their oppression in Egypt, so God will make a way for the exiles out of Babylon through the wilderness. God is doing a new thing—can’t the people sense it? Even the wild animals honor God because God provides for them in the wilderness, and so God will provide for the people. God chose the people of Israel that they might praise God, that they might know God’s mighty deeds in history, as God brings them once again into a land promised.
Psalm 126 is a song of rejoicing in returning from the exile. God has brought great joy to the people. It’s like a dream—those who went out weeping have returned rejoicing. God has restored the people the way God restores the seasonal waters in the desert of the Negev. The people who had everything taken from them except their seeds are returning with arms full of the harvest.
Paul appeals to the church in Philippi because of his background and what he has given up for the sake of Christ in 3:4b-14. He could boast of his heritage and education and experience, but he gave it all up for the sake of Christ. In Paul’s own experience of suffering and imprisonment, he has understood Christ’s sufferings and the power of resurrection. Whatever gains he may have had from his legacy and upbringing, only the knowledge of Christ as his Lord has given meaning to his life and hope for new life. This is what Paul strives for, as he has left behind who he was to cling to who Christ has made him to be.
In John’s account of the Gospel, it is Mary, Martha’s sister, who anoints Jesus’ feet in John 12:1-8. Mary, who sat at the feet of Jesus to listen and learn in Luke 10:38-42, and who wept at his feet in John 11:32-36, took a jar of perfume of costly nard to anoint Jesus’ feet. In the other three accounts of this story in the Gospels, more than one disciple complained, not just Judas, who asked why the perfume wasn’t sold and the money given to the poor. Jesus commands Judas (and the other disciples) to leave her alone, that she bought that perfume for the day of his burial, indicating that she was anointing him before death. Jesus then quotes Deuteronomy 15:11, which states that there are always opportunities to show kindness to the poor, though this is often lost in context. In the very next chapter, Jesus washes the disciples’ feet, mirroring the act of kindness and preparation that Mary bestowed upon him.
The Narrative Lectionary is following the events of Jesus’ last night before his crucifixion. In last week’s reading, Jesus was questioned by Pontius Pilate. In this week’s reading of 19:1-16a, Pilate handed Jesus over to the soldiers, having him whipped. The soldiers dressed him in a purple robe and crown of thorns, a mockery of a king. Pilate declared he found no reason to charge Jesus, but the crowds called for him to be crucified. The religious leaders claimed Jesus had blasphemed and that was enough for death, but that Pilate needed to be the one to sentence him. Pilate warned Jesus he had the authority to release him, if Jesus would back down from his words, but Jesus told Pilate that Pilate’s authority was given to him from above. It is important to remember that the community of John’s Gospel account was in deep division with their Jewish neighbors in the community, and so the portrayal of Pilate as someone who didn’t want to hand Jesus over but felt forced to is skewed. It is still clear that Pilate had Jesus whipped and beaten. The religious leaders told Pilate they had no king but the emperor, a clear call to Pilate’s authority under Rome, and yet Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified.
Psalm 146 is a song of praise, but also contains a warning not to trust any human beings, any worldly leaders, because they will fall away, and only last so long. God’s faithfulness endures forever. God is the God of our ancestors, of Jacob, and God made the whole earth. God is the one who gives justice to the people oppressed and bread to the hungry, frees the prisoners, protects immigrants, and helps the most vulnerable, the orphans and widows among us. God reigns forever.
Worldly leaders fail us, but God’s reign endures forever. In the stories of our ancestors we know that God will make a way where there is none. God will do a new thing when only the old has remained. God will find a way where there has been no way. Jesus prepares us to serve by washing his disciple’s feet, because we will always have an opportunity to serve one another. Jesus himself was prepared by Mary who acted with compassion to him, because even Christ needs our compassion. Our worldly leaders have failed us, but Christ is victorious, because he emptied himself, becoming like us, and shows us how to love one another and serve one another.
Call to Worship (Psalm 146:1-2, 6, 10)
Praise the Lord!
Let my whole being praise our God!
I will praise the Lord with all my life;
I will sing praises to God as long as I live
God is the maker of heaven and earth,
The sea, and all that is in them.
God is faithful forever,
Reigning from one generation to the next.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
We come before You, O God, recognizing that we have put our trust in worldly rulers, in worldly wealth and power. We have lifted up the strong and powerful and have trampled on the poor and needy. We have failed to show compassion to one another, and therefore, have failed to be compassionate to You. Forgive us, O God. Remind us of Your commandment to serve one another, to become last of all, to love one another as we love ourselves. Guide us into Your ways of justice and mercy and restoration, and most of all, Your way of deep compassion, as You have deep compassion for us. In the name of Jesus, who was moved to tears to raise the dead, moved to feed the hungry, moved to turn tables and heal those in need—may we be moved as well. Amen.
God is on the move. God is always at work, in our world and in our lives. Can you not perceive it? God is doing something new in you. Listen! The rustle of the wind, the song of the bird, even the faint buzz of the electric lights—God is alive. God is amazing. And God loves you madly. Seek healing and forgiveness and work for justice and reparation. God is with you. God is for you. Go! Do the work Christ has called you to do, and know that you are loved and are not alone on this journey of faith. Amen.
God of Compassion, remind us that You breathe life into us. You are the still, small voice. You are the one who enfolds us. You know our hearts. You know the knots in our stomachs, the weight on our shoulders, the pain in our temples. Help us to breathe deeply into Your compassion, to love ourselves. Help us to breathe Your love into the stresses of our lives and to release them to You. May we hand over our burdens, O God. May we lay them down. May we stretch out and feel Your love flow through our very veins, knowing that You knit us together, and are continuing to make us new. Heal us, O God, and help us to have deep compassion for ourselves, so we may be filled with Your compassion for one another. Amen.