By Evan Kardaras, Sub-Deacon at St. Mary & St. Mina Coptic Orthodox Church, Bexley, Australia.
(Talk given at Wednesday Evening Passion Week Service 2019)
In this morning’s Pascha service, there were two Gospel readings, which I’d like us to explore in a little more detail. To do this, I’ll read these two readings now, and then we will delve into them a little deeper to see what we can learn from them.
The first reading is from the Gospel of St John 12:1-8.
“12 Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead. 2 There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him. 3 Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.
4 But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, who would betray Him, said, 5 “Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” 6 This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it.
7 But Jesus said, “Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial. 8 For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always.” “
The second reading is from the Gospel of St Matthew 26:6-16.
“6 And when Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, 7 a woman came to Him having an alabaster flask of very costly fragrant oil, and she poured it on His head as He sat at the table. 8 But when His disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? 9 For this fragrant oil might have been sold for much and given to the poor.”
10 But when Jesus was aware of it, He said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a good work for Me. 11 For you have the poor with you always, but Me you do not have always. 12 For in pouring this fragrant oil on My body, she did it for My burial. 13 Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.”
14 Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver Him to you?” And they counted out to him thirty pieces of silver. 16 So from that time he sought opportunity to betray Him.”
In these readings we see our Lord Jesus at Bethany in the house of Simon the Leper, along with Lazarus, Martha and Mary. We also know his Apostles were present, as the Gospel of St Matthew states that the disciples were very angry, that Mary had taken very expensive fragrant oil and poured it on our Lord’s head and feet, instead of it being sold, with the proceeds from the sale being used to help the poor.
We also read in the Gospel of St John, that Judas specifically was very upset and angry that Mary had poured this oil on the Lord, as he wanted it to be sold, so that he could steal the money and use it to satisfy his own desires. St John says this clearly in his Gospel saying: “This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it.” We see then that Judas motive was greed and self-interest, and that he didn’t really care about the poor at all.
Our Lord responded to the Apostles displeasure by saying something along these lines: “Why are you troubling Mary by displaying your displeasure at her act of love? She has done a good work for Me. You have the poor with you always, you can do charity to them anytime, but you won’t have me around forever. Mary has poured this fragrant oil on me for My burial. Truly I tell you all, that wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what Mary has done will be told as a memorial to her.”
We then read in the gospel of St Matthew that straight after Jesus said this to His Apostles, Judas went to the chief priests and said, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver Him to you?” The chief priests then gave Judas “thirty pieces of silver”, so that Judas could betray Jesus and deliver him to them.
In these two accounts we observe something quite amazing. We see two people that were really close to Jesus, two of his followers, one an Apostle, being Judas, and the other St Mary the sister of Lazarus. Both these people knew Jesus well; both saw His miracles, both heard Him speak, both were considered close friends. Judas had the added privilege, of being one of the chosen twelve Apostles, in Jesus closest circle of friends. We also read in the Gospel of St Luke 9:1 that when Jesus “called His twelve disciples together” he “gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases.” This shows us that Judas also performed miracles, healed people through this grace given to him by our Lord. Yet even though these two people shared a mutual closeness to the Lord through being his friends throughout his earthly ministry, and even though they both witnessed his miracles, love and power, their responses to His love were miles apart.
Mary came to this event with the fragrant oil, after witnessing Jesus love and miracles throughout his earthly ministry. In the Gospel of St Luke, we see Mary sitting at our Lord’s feet, listening attentively to His life giving words, while Martha was busy with serving. Mary also personally witnessed our Lord Jesus raise her brother Lazarus from the dead. She thus came to this event with a heart full of gratitude and love for her Lord. In the Gospels of St Mark and St John, we read that the fragrant oil could have been sold for three hundred denarii. We know historically speaking that one denarii was considered one days wage for a skilled labourer. Today in Sydney a skilled labourer would make approximately one hundred and eighty dollars a day. So if we take the three hundred denarii and multiply it by the base wage of a skilled labourer in Sydney, we get fifty four thousand dollars, a lofty sum to say the least.
This demonstrates to us the love and gratitude that Mary had toward our Lord Jesus. She gave up a years’ worth of wages, a substantial amount of money in a time when money was scarce and people were generally quite poor. Think about this for a moment. Who here would love Christ to such an extent, that they would offer such an expensive gift? What must have been her feelings and emotions toward the Lord Jesus? Deep gratitude, worship and adoration. Her heart was aflame with love for the Lord, having heard His life giving teachings, having witnessed His love for all the weak and broken, and having had her brother Lazarus brought back to life.
Not only did she offer this expensive gift, but she also wiped our Lord’s feet with her hair, an act of deep humility and disregard for her own person. She didn’t care if people would mock her for this act. She didn’t care what others thought. Her love transcended all fear of people and people pleasing; it casted out all fear, and allowed her to offer a precious gift of fragrant oil, and her own humble service to the Lord. Here we see a heart that is truly aflame with the love of Christ.
Let us now turn to Judas. He was chosen as one of the closest of all of Christ’s disciples, one of the twelve, an Apostle. He heard parables explained in more depth by the Lord as one of the twelve. He spent more time with the Lord away from the crowds of people, meaning he knew the Lord on a far more personal level. He had the grace to perform miracles, to cast out demons. He was also entrusted by the Lord to be the keeper of the money box, the sole source of finances for the Lord and the apostles in their ministry. Being so close to the Lord meant he would have seen more miracles than Mary, and heard more teachings from His Lord. Ultimately, he was one of the closer friends of our Lord Jesus, being one of the twelve.
Yet with all these benefits bestowed on Judas, we read that “he was a thief” and that “he used to take what was put in” the money box. We see that with all the benefits he had bestowed upon him from the Lord, his heart was not in the right place. Even though he knew all the teachings, was close to the other members of the Church, the Apostles and disciples, and close to Jesus Himself, he did not benefit from the gifts bestowed upon him by our Lord; his title, gifts and position.
On the contrary, due to his heart coveting, or desiring money in a greedy and selfish manner, Judas blinded himself from the beauty of Christ and did not benefit at all from his closeness to Him. His blindness of heart made him furious that our Lord supported Mary and said that her pouring of fragrant oil was accepted by him as an act of love, and led him to go to the Pharisees and offer to betray his Lord to them for thirty pieces of silver. If he couldn’t benefit from the sale of Mary’s perfume, he’d benefit financially from the betrayal of his Lord.
We see here the absolute danger of a heart that is not right with God. We can come to Church, know Jesus teachings, be close to our priests, even serve and do amazing works, like Judas did, but if we love sin, do not want to repent of our sins, we will ultimately betray our Lord as Judas did and be condemned along with him. Let us explore this deeper. Many Christians ask the question, after St Peter denied Jesus three times why was it that he repented, whereas Judas committed suicide?
To answer this question, we say that Peter heard the teachings of Christ, and even though he was a weak man, as we all are, his heart’s desire was to be loyal to Christ, to obey Christ, to follow him unto death. He wanted to learn and obey Jesus in every way. In other words, Peter’s heart was right with God. His intention was pure. He was really trying to be the best he could be, and to love and follow the Lord.
Yes, he was weak, as we all are, and made mistakes, but his weakness was not out of a love for sin, and a desire to live in sin without repentance. He was a genuine disciple, with genuine weaknesses. Thus when he hit rock bottom and sinned, and denied Christ, his heart was broken, he wept, and was truly saddened that he had let down the Lord, whom he genuinely followed and genuinely loved. This led him to repentance as He knew his Lords love, and remembered his teachings of forgiveness. He knew the Lord would not turn Him away, as the Lord demonstrated forgiveness and mercy and taught this on numerous occasions.
Let’s now take a look at Judas. Judas heard the teaching of the Lord for three years. He knew the commandments, that to love and to desire the things of this world was idolatry, that stealing was the opposite of the love that Jesus taught. He knew that hiding the fact that he was stealing from the money box was wrong, that he was lying, and that Jesus taught everyone to be honest. He knew that while he was stealing from the money box, he was being the opposite of that which Jesus taught. In other words, his behaviour was that of a deceiver and hypocrite while pretending to be a genuine follower of Christ.
Can someone who doesn’t want to obey Christ actually know Him? Can someone who knowingly sins, without feeling any remorse, really understand Jesus teachings? Can someone who has lived so close to the all loving Jesus, for such a long time, and knowingly lived in evil without any remorse, have actually experienced a burning love in their heart for the Lord? Absolutely not.
Judas heart was hardened through a love of sin, it blinded him to the beauty of Jesus, to the sweet love of Jesus, to the gracious mercy of his Lord. So when he sinned, and betrayed his Lord, he didn’t have the experience of His love in his heart; of His tender mercy to prompt him to repentance. He didn’t reflect on his Lord’s teachings, as he had disobeyed them knowingly as a thief. Instead he was left with the guilt and emptiness of his betrayal and turned to the only logical solution he could think of, as someone who never actually knew Christ, and went and hung himself.
This is an absolute tragedy and should act as a warning to every single Christian. To love sin and to refuse to repent is deadly. It is extremely dangerous and will produce absolutely destructive consequences. I’m not talking here about those of us who hate sin, yet through weakness fall and then get up quickly, trusting in the absolute love and mercy of our Lord. No. I’m talking about a person like Judas, who knows the teaching of Christ, has heard of how a Christian should live, but doesn’t care at all, and on the contrary willingly and joyfully desires to sin, without and desire to change or repent.
A person like this is in absolute danger. They are in the exact same mindset as that of Judas prior to his fall, of indifference and spiritual death and darkness. It won’t benefit them if they come to Church, partake of the sacraments, know the priests, and serve and even do miracles, if they secretly delight in sin, without a desire to repent. They will end up like Judas.
On the contrary, if we are like St Mary and St Peter. Then we greatly desire the Lord, we want to follow Him, sit at His feet and listen to Him, obey Him, love Him, give our whole lives to Him. Yes, we will sin, as there is none without sin, no, not one. But because our intention and desire is true and correct, because our heart’s desire is not to sin, and we do all we can to remain faithful to the Lord, then we will always partake of the sweet fruits of repentance and steadily make our way to eternal life, trough the tender mercies of our beautiful Lord Jesus.
A person like St Mary and St Peter, is also on a journey of steadily experiencing the presence of God more and more, in their lives. The teachings of His love are not just something they have heard, a theory, but through their heartfelt dedication to follow and obey our Lord, every day, their heart is being purified more and more through Jesus grace, and as time passes they start to perceive His presence, His sweet love in their hearts.
They bathe in His sweet love, His mercy, His peace and joy. This person has started to experience and manifest the fruits of the presence of Christ in their hearts, the fruits of the Holy Spirit. And as time passes on this journey of love, they gain a greater assurance of His salvation, knowing that nothing can separate them from His love, and that as long as they cling to Him, they will one day be united with Him forevermore, as part of His Body, the Church, forevermore in His heavenly kingdom.
Today brothers and sisters we can choose whose example we will follow. I believe all of us will follow the example of St Mary and St Peter, and have hearts with true desire and love for the Lord, not hearts that are wicked and delight in sin. I believe that all of us, with true love for our Lord, will journey through the rest of this blessed Passion week, with our minds and hearts gazing at our crucified saviour, knowing He endured all this suffering for us, to save us and unite us to Himself as His Body, the Church, unto beautiful heavenly life forevermore.
Glory be to God forevermore, amen.