(Isaiah 43:16-21, Psalm 126, Philippians 3:4b-14)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/HwPFto9U_9U)
1Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5“Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” 6(He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) 7Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
I’ve often wondered why so many of us have a deep dislike of anything new. Whether it’s a new food or a new haircut or a new job or a new outfit or a new class or a new person, our natural aversion to it is somewhat alarming. Why is this? Why do so many of us go out of our way to avoid new things? Is it the risk of having to give up something old in order to adopt something new that turns us off to the whole idea? What if we come to find that the new thing is worse than the old thing? Sure, many places offer a money-back guarantee if we are dissatisfied with our new products. But then there are many places and situations that don’t allow us take back the old if we’re dissatisfied with the new. We’re simply stuck with the new thing and there are few things more irritating than being stuck with something you don’t value or appreciate. We’d rather tolerate the old thing than risk being stuck with a worse new thing!
Of course, what’s really at the root of our aversion to anything new is a deep fear of change. If we adopt the new thing, then change is thrust upon us whether we like it or not. Change can be scary. Change can be debilitating. But change can also be enlivening and hopeful. Change can make things better instead of worse. If only we were certain that change and new things would make our lives better than perhaps we’d be more welcoming of new things. But we don’t—there is often too much unknown about change and new things. We don’t know if our lives will be better and not knowing this holds us back.
Just because new things imply change and the unknown doesn’t mean we should be so quick to avoid them. In fact, there are several benefits to trying out new things as explained by Alex Blackwell on his blog, “Everyday Inspiration.” Mr. Blackwell argues that trying new things can help increase our confidence by showing us we have what it takes to step out into the unknown and survive. With the added confidence, we grow to appreciate ourselves more for our hidden talents and traits. We reveal good parts of ourselves we never thought we had and we become proud of ourselves. Trying new things can teach us new skills which in turn make us better assets to ourselves and others. We have natural tendencies to simply tolerate old things or patterns that can get us in physical, spiritual, or mental ruts. We get stuck in monotonous, life-draining situations when we rigidly cling to old things. Trying new things can break us free from these ruts and give us our lives back. Finally, Mr. Blackwell points out that not only do we learn to appreciate and gain confidence in ourselves but also in the people and situations around us when we try new things. It helps us to place higher value on things outside of ourselves. Indeed, there are several strong benefits to consider when given the opportunity to embrace new things.
Our aversion to new things, in spite of the clear benefits of them, is in sharp contrast to God’s liking of new things. Our readings assigned for this week help illustrate how God embraces change and the opportunities that new things can provide. All throughout scripture we hear stories of how God is himself an agent of change, creating new situations and opportunities for His faithful believers. God created our world on the assumption of change. Everything changes in this world—nothings stays the same. Change is part of God’s design for this world. Perhaps this part of the design was to help us cling to the unchanging love of God. Regardless, God built change into the design and constantly uses it to create new things in this world. Whether we like new things or not, God is continuously gifting us with new things, new situations, new opportunities.
Time and time again, the prophet Isaiah witnessed our God finding new ways to break into the lives of the wayward Israelites. The Israelites were prone to habitually sinful behavior. They habitually fell away from their faith in God to provide for their needs. They habitually doubted God’s love for them. They habitually placed their trust in themselves and their own abilities as limited as they were. Yet we heard the Lord speak to them, “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Our God, our gracious and forgiving God, found a way to break into the ruts of the Israelites. Our God brought them out of exile, carved a way out of their wilderness, by raising righteous leaders and restoring their lost fortunes. Our God listened to his people, our God loved his people, and our God created anew for his people.
The apostle Paul, formerly known as Saul, was a man who was once dedicated to persecuting Christians. He was a self-righteous man, eager to follow the laws of his time and delude himself into believing he was more important than our God. Saul had no relationship with our God and despised those who did. Yet God found a way to break into his life just as he broke into the lives of the unfaithful Israelites. God came to Saul on the road to Damascus and His encounter completely transformed Saul’s life. No longer did he persecute Christians but became one of our most important evangelists and apostles. It was a new type of encounter that God made…so new that it caused Saul to take on his new name, Paul. As he states in his letter to the Philippians, “Yet whatever gains I had, there I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” Paul was a new man with a new outlook on life. It was all thanks to God creating anew in him.
In our gospel reading, we witnessed how God created anew through Mary. Mary, in her costly anointing of Jesus’ feet, broke out of her status in life to allow God to be rightly honored. Moreover, it gave Jesus an opportunity to teach Judas and us not to fixate on the unimportant things in life. Again, God created anew in that situation, shifting our foolish mindsets onto more important things. Jesus deserves our very best at all times. To give him anything less is to be ungrateful and spiteful. God elevated Mary from a servant woman to a wise and grateful servant of our Lord. Like Saul, God created a new identity for her, an identity that lived into the rest of her life.
For the last five weeks, we’ve been walking with Jesus towards Jerusalem. We’ve reflected deeper on who Jesus was and our responsibilities as faithful Christians. Hopefully we’ve come to some new insight into Christ’s identity and our responsibilities. Lent is a time when we receive a new relationship with God through Christ. Whether we avoid new things or welcome them, we should ALL invite the newness of God into our lives. God wants a new, enriched, and enlivened relationship with each of us. God goes to the cross for just such a relationship! As we get ever closer to Calvary, let us continue to reflect on His sacrifice and be glad for yet another opportunity…to be made anew.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.