Two people who gave up their all for Jesus

Mary Copping, 3 April 2022

Isaiah 43: 16–21; Philippians 3: 4b–14; John 12: 1–8

When Roman Catholics are going to be confirmed they’re invited to choose a confirmation saint because they recognise how important it is to know their saint not only by name, but also by their actions. The saints have so much to teach us through their lives about our life and journey with God.

The saint that I most relate to is Saint Francis of Assisi, born into a very rich family in 1181, and his father expected him to take over the family business. However Francis had a gradual conversion experience and heard God say to him one day, ‘Build my church’. From there he gave up all his possessions, went on the road to help the poor and preach the good news, and gathered brothers around him to form a small Franciscan community. He felt that God would provide, and though life was sometimes hard for him, God did provide. Francis gave up all he had to serve God. I wonder which saint you would choose.

In our gospel reading we heard what happened when Jesus had dinner at Lazarus’ home in Bethany – we hear how Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume and wiped them with her hair to express her love and devotion. She anointed Christ’s feet caring nothing for the hostile reactions. A woman kneeling at a man’s feet at a supper was not usual. And in this, though unknowingly, she was preparing Jesus her Saviour for his burial – the shadow of the cross over this supper and over Jesus’ life.

These are two people who gave up their all for Jesus: Francis giving up his riches and Mary giving up that valuable perfume for love of him. In a different translation we are told that Jesus says of Mary, ‘She has done a beautiful thing for me’.

Today is Passion Sunday, an important day in the church calendar, emphasising a vital aspect of God. Not the God up in heaven, remote from pain in his divine glory. It is the God who, even though we may say, ‘Where is God when we need him?’ is with us sharing in our suffering – the God who suffered and continues to suffer for and with his world.

We use the word ‘passion’ to describe the suffering endured by Jesus during the last few days of his life, especially the Crucifixion. Passiontide is a name for the last two weeks of Lent, beginning on the Fifth Sunday of Lent, and ending on Holy Saturday. In the Roman Catholic Church and in Anglo-Catholic churches, all crucifixes and images may be covered in veils starting on Passion Sunday. The veiling was associated with Passion Sunday’s gospel, in which we’re told in part of the gospel that Jesus ‘hid himself’ from the people.

For quite a few years I was a Franciscan tertiary. Members do not live in a community, but live their everyday lives in the world. However, they gather together on a regular basis to support and help each other. Each makes a profession of faith to live out the gospel life and commit themselves to living it according to the example of Saint Francis.

Tertiaries seek to live joyfully a life of simplicity, humble service and self-discipline. How difficult it is for us to live a life of simplicity in our world today! But more and more we are all thinking about how we can do this, especially in the light of the climate emergency and in the light of our poorer brothers and sisters suffering around the world. Do we need to take that flight abroad? Do we need that new car? Et cetera. And then trying to live a life of humble service: how can we serve others in our community and beyond? What can we do to help those fleeing from Ukraine? What can we do to help others less fortunate than us? And self-discipline – we don’t really like that, do we? But how can we live our active, busy lives focused on God, quiet with God, focused on what he wants us to do?

Both Saint Francis and Mary put their love and faith into action and gave up all they had and all they valued to serve God. But of course God doesn’t ask us to give up all we have, but he does ask us – and we know this – to use what he gives us wisely and well and for his purposes and to help others. And what God asks one person to do will be very different from what he asks another person, according to all our circumstances.

God may be asking some of us to take in a Ukrainian family and he will give them all they need to be able to do this – he will provide. For others it may be to give money for this or to pray for the situation.

A couple of weeks ago, Liz and I spoke about the needs of the church and how we can all support our church and community, through gifts of our time, talents and money. Maybe God is asking us today to look at this again.

We are in very challenging times at the moment, but we are so blessed to be given by God the gift of our most holy faith, to be able to come here on Sunday to worship God or to watch online, and to give God thanks for all the good things he does give us – but also to be challenged on how we live. As in Luke 12: 48, ‘To whom much has been given, much will be required’.

God doesn’t want us to be burdened with guilt about what we should do or give; Saint Francis gladly gave up all to serve God, the woman gave up her expensive perfume out of great love for Jesus. Our giving or doing whatever God asks us is joyful and thankful, in recognition of his great love for us and all that he has done for us through Christ.

Jesus said of the woman, ‘She has done a beautiful thing for me’. In this Passiontide, as we ponder on Jesus’ journey to the cross and suffer with him, I wonder what beautiful thing he is asking each one of us to do for him. Whatever it is, he will give us all that we need to do it, and to do it with joyful thanks and praise to him.