Impossible Promise

Isaiah 43:16-21

John 12:1-8


Jesus knows that the end is near. Mary knows too. He’s raised Lazarus from the dead … an impossible act. Now in the house of Lazarus, Mary knows that the end of Jesus may be the end of God’s impossible promise of a transformed age where the cruelty of the world ceases at last.

For ages now God has promised this wonderful age. Isaiah proclaimed it. He proclaimed how God was going to make it possible to bring the sustenance of God’s grace and compassion even in the wilderness and desert of our self-serving, greedy, power hungry age. Every bit of creation will rejoice in God’s love because God make this old, stubborn, selfish world to finally bear the fruit of inclusion, acceptance, and care for one and all.

Jesus was the hope incarnate that the Kingdom of God had finally arrived. Judas, Lazarus, Mary and Martha had witnessed it already among them. Mary’s and Martha’s brother was alive but should have been dead. The 5000 were fed with virtually no resources at all. The tax collectors repented. The blind could see and the deaf could hear. At last God’s Kingdom was inbreaking into the world.

But now a storm swirled around Jesus. He had crossed the powers and principalities. If he succeeded in bringing that impossible Kingdom promised by the God through the prophets, the powers would fall. Jesus had to go.

And Jesus from the beginning know that the road he chose was very likely to come to this. Mary now understood that too.

The coming Kingdom was so radical, countercultural, that deep down hardly anyone could buy in to it … it was a wonderful dream, but now we have to get back to reality, so thought the powers … and probably Judas.

But Mary so hoped against hope, that somehow, someway it would all work out. So she took her very expensive perfumed that she had been saving up for that terrible day soon come and used it now. Why not? Let Jesus know while he’s alive that she still believed that Kingdom has come …

But Judas can’t buy in to it … if he ever did. He’s already succumbed to the way of the world and let his greed get the better of him. But Jesus won’t let him go … he reminds that the poor will still be with them when he is gone and they still have the responsibility as transformed citizens of the Kingdom to lift up the poor, to be a voice for the voiceless, and to embrace the alien among us.

Mary was making an impossible promise to Jesus … and Judas and her family … that the Kingdom can come… now.

Today, in this Lenten Season, we Christians are confronted with that impossible promise by God. We Christians have now entered the season where we reflect on the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus. Already we are challenged to have faith in the impossible. We are called to believe that God was incarnated as a human being who was executed and then raised from the dead. That’s pretty impossible.

But beyond that we are called to have faith in the Kingdom of God coming among us. After 2000 years we are still waiting for it. But …

God as Jesus promised that if we follow the acts and teachings of Jesus, the Messiah, our lives and the lives of everyone and everything would turn from death to life.

And we are not thinking of physical death and life. Indeed, we are called to consider the richer, deeper issue of spiritual death and life. All around Jesus and all around us are the powers and principalities that kill the soul. If anything, they have grown more powerful, more ubiquitous, and more intractable than they were in Jesus’ time.

How can we even imagine a world where no one is hungry, no one is homeless, no one is neglected, no one is abused, no one is persecuted, and no one is cheated of an education or the opportunity to find fulfillment in their God given talents? How can we believe in a world where the stranger among us is stranger no longer? We’ve talked and talked and talked about this; we’ve worked and worked and worked at it, since I can remember. And we seem to make next to no progress at all. The promise is indeed impossible.

The powers of greed and wealth accumulation are in full force all around us. The powers of coercion and domination are all pervasive. The powers of exclusion and hate are everywhere practiced.

We understandably live in an age of cynicism. We can trust no one. We can rely on no one. We can believe in nothing. The world is drowning in selfishness, violence, and fear. We huddle in our secure communities praying God that the next attack won’t be on us. We fear our neighbors. We mistrust our neighbors. We can lean nothing, because we can borrow nothing. We cannot trust banks, government, or even churches. We cannot trust the media for facts and a measure of treat. We cannot trust doctors who are probably more concern for making money than for making healing. We cannot trust politicians who also out to make money. Everyone wants to make money … There’s nobody to turn to, except to ourselves. I can trust only me and me alone.

So this glorious and wonderful promise of Jesus to save the world from violence, hate, and greed evaporated on the Cross.  All we can do is try to make the little bit of land we have safe and sound.

So we become as Paul said to the Philippians enemies of the Cross. Our god is our bellies, our glory is our shame, and our minds are set on earthly things. And our souls are dying.  Unlike Mary who took her most expensive gift and showered it on Jesus, we count the cost of each action in time, money, and reputation. The poor we will always have with us.

But … Paul reminds us … and Mary showed us … that our citizenship is in the Kingdom of God, not in the earth. We are citizens of that impossible, irrational, promise. That is what our lives are to be about. That’s where we cast our votes.

A month ago, I visited with a Sister in St. Joe’s in Elizabeth. St. Joe’s is no longer a parish, but an outreach community that takes care of people who have fallen on hard times, many of which are homeless. St. Joe’s has been around a long time and I spoke with the Sister for about an hour of the work they do. They provide food and clothing for families and after school programs. They work with the Coalition for the Homeless to provide job training and ESL programs.

They are a bit of the promise come true. They are an arm and a leg of the promise enfleshed. In their small community the Kingdom of God is a reality. The Sisters there are angels … they work very hard, selflessly to provide for over 800 families which on average translates to 3200 people. They worry over them, they keep track of them, they provide for them, and help to give them a boost up.

We talked of one family, a grandmother caring for four grandchildren. She can’t pay her bills, because she can’t get a job. And if she found a job, how would she care for her grandchildren? The expense of paying for child care would most likely eat up her income and she couldn’t pay the bills! I suggested caring for those children is her job. She should be paid for that with income and benefits… but that’s Kingdom economics, not this world’s economics.

But sometimes the impossible promise is not out of reach. It’s just waiting for us to reach out to it. George Bernard Shaw once said, “You see things as they are and ask, ‘Why?’ I dream things as they never were and ask, ‘Why not?’”

The Sister told me how 2 of the 3 hospitals in Elizabeth have been closed. One now was just a vacant ruin not far from them. That planted a thought: a vacant ruin and the homeless: a match made in heaven. What if 20 homeless families took that ruin and removed the boards from the windows and let the light shine in? What if they painted the walls and swept the floors? What if they turned on the electricity and the gas? What if they moved in furniture and lived there?

I know it raises all sorts of barriers. I know it requires commitment on their part. It requires help from the community. And it’s probably illegal. But sometimes the impossible promise calls his to glean on the Sabbath and break open the Temple granary to feed and house the homeless. Sometimes reaching for the promise is a dangerous thing … but sometimes out of that danger comes new life.

I suggested this to a lawyer who knows the situation. She was uncomfortable with it, but then in a low voice said, “I think the mayor would like that …”

Think about it.

God’s grace and love be with you …