Weekly Meditation: 13th March 2016

Fifth Sunday in Lent, Passion Sunday

Isaiah 43:16-21

Psalm 126

Philippians 3;4b-14

John 12:1-8 Jesus anointed for burial by Mary

Our God makes impossible things happen; this is the message of the lectionary readings for today. For the nation of Judah in captivity in Babylon, God – though Isaiah – had prepared a message of hope, a promise of impossible-sounding deliverance. We, also, can take this message for our own.

The people of Judah been unfaithful to the Lord over many years, and as a result they were deported to the hostile, alien land of the Babylonians. Once there, Jerusalem and its temple must have seemed as remote as the moon, for not only were they far distant, but the city had been laid waste and the temple destroyed. It was impossible that they would ever be restored and the people allowed to return, or so it appeared. In his prophecy, Isaiah reminded the people that they were already the product of a miracle. Their entire nation had been brought out of captivity in Egypt when God divided the Red Sea and caused the downfall of the Egyptian chariots and horsemen (43:16-17). In the same way, God would make “a way through the desert” to bring them back from Babylon (43:19-20).

When this occurred, just as God had promised, the people sang a psalm of praise and thanks to God (Psalm 126). They marvelled that their deliverance felt like a dream (v 1). It had seemed such an impossibility that even the pagan nations acknowledged the Lord’s hand in their release (v 2). All the tears the people had shed in captivity were now turned to joy (v 5-6).

We do not witness large-scale miracles like that now; we do not see God saving whole nations of people by intervening in our time and space. Then, God was saving a people into which his Messiah was to be born (Genesis 22:17-18); now his purposes are different. God’s work in the Christian era is no less miraculous, however.

In writing to the Philippians, the apostle Paul speaks of the righteousness that comes through faith in Jesus Christ (3:9). In order to emphasise the value of this gift, Paul rehearses all the qualifications on which he had once thought his salvation rested (vv 5-6). He then declares them “loss … compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (v 7). We cannot earn salvation through our own attempts at righteousness; we can only claim the gift of God.

When Mary anointed Jesus with precious perfume (John 12:3), her actions – whether or not she understood the full implications – were to prepare him for burial (v 7). Probably none of Jesus’ followers at that time realised that he was to die, nor that his death was for their salvation. Nevertheless, those last days of Jesus’ earthly ministry were comparable to the time the Israelites waited on the shores of the Red Sea, or the wasted years In Babylon when hope was dim; none had realised the salvation that was about to take place. The miraculous deliverance from sin that God wrought for us brings into sharp focus the value of Jesus’ blood, willingly shed. Our own efforts are “rubbish” (Philippians 3:8). Jesus is the only means for our salvation.

By Susan Thorne