Saturday, March 16, 2013

Fifth Sunday in Lent: A New Thing


Readings for this Sunday:  Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126, Philippians 3:4b-14; John 12:1-8

Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.  I am about to do a new thing; new it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

It’s an odd word from to hear from the prophet Isaiah – do not remember the former things.  Remembering was foundational for the Israelites, part of their identity.  Moses commanded them to remember how God rescued them from Pharaoh’s slavery, and brought them into the Promised Land.  Every Passover, they remembered in detail the story of God’s deliverance.

It’s odder still because Isaiah begins this speech by doing exactly that – remembering the things of old.  God who parted the sea and gave you dry land to pass on while the Egyptians in their chariots drowned says do not consider the things of old.  Instead, look for the new things God is doing – can’t you see them?

Perhaps that was why the Israelites were in exile – they had gotten stuck in the past.  They were focused on what God has done for them, for the days when God’s mighty hand and outstretched arm rescued them from Pharaoh.  The days when God feed them in the wilderness and made water flow from rocks.  The days when God led them into the land, making them a nation.  The glory days when God blessed King David and Israel grew and prospered.

Satisfied with what God had done for them, they no longer looked to see what God was doing.  They could not perceive the new things God was doing.

Now they were in exile and crying out to God to once again rescue them.  Isaiah brings this word of hope – God is doing a new thing.  God is working to make a way in the dry and thirsty wilderness in which they find themselves.


Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.  I am about to do a new thing; new it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

Jesus is at the home of Lazarus and Mary and Martha and Bethany. He’s relaxing with friends, sharing a meal.  Martha is serving the meal that she has lovingly cooked. But this is no ordinary dinner party.

How can it be ordinary, when the host, Lazarus, have been called out of the tomb by Jesus?  God certainly is doing a new thing, making a way through the wilderness of death.  Who would have thought that Lazarus would host a dinner after the sad meals eaten as he lay in the grave?  

How can it be an ordinary meal shared with friends, when the very fact that Lazarus is alive has become the catalyst for events that will lead to Jesus’ death? The chief priests and Pharisees have finalized their plans to have Jesus arrested and put to death. Lazarus must die too – there should be no reminders of this upstart preacher from Galilee and his miracles.

How can it be an ordinary dinner, when the very next morning, Jesus enters Jerusalem riding on a donkey, Palm branches waving and shouts of “hosanna” in the air?

Mary perceives this is no ordinary dinner, this is no ordinary night.  God is doing a new thing, and while she doesn’t understand why, she knows that Jesus is going to die.  She may not have wanted to believe it when she heard Jesus predicts his death, but she has heard the rumors and she can see the signs and she’s prepared.

She takes the jar of expensive perfume – worth a whole year’s salary - she has purchased for just this moment. Kneeling by Jesus’ feet, where she is so often sat and listened as he talked, she pours the perfume on his feet and wipes them with her hair. 

It’s the least she can do, this extravagant act of gratitude and love. God is doing a new thing, and Mary does what she can to be a part of it.

Judas protests - what a waste of perfume, a waste of money.  He’s offended by Mary’s devotion, her unstinting love.   He doesn’t understand. He’s heard Jesus predict his death. He knows that Jesus is a very real danger just being in Bethany. He too can read the signs and has heard rumors. 

Perhaps he’s so certain that he knew just what Jesus should do to free them from the detested Romans that he longer looked to see what God was doing.  He could not perceive the new thing God was doing.

He could not perceive that God could use a cross as a path through the wilderness of death, that Jesus provides living water and the bread of life.


“Don’t dwell on the things of the past;
........don’t get bogged down in nostalgia.
I am about to do something completely new;
........can’t you see it taking shape before your very eyes?”[i]

Paul has a heritage to boast of, a pedigree to be proud of.  He’s lived a good life, a godly life.  But one day on the road to Damascus he comes face to face with the new thing God is doing.  Face to face with amazing grace and love, Paul understands that his own righteousness has gotten in the way of his right-ness with God.  He had been blinded by the past, but now his eyes were opened to see the new thing God was doing.  The heritage, the pedigree, the good life are meaningless to Paul – the only thing he can see now is Christ.

“Don’t dwell on the things of the past;
........don’t get bogged down in nostalgia.
I am about to do something completely new;
........can’t you see it taking shape before your very eyes?”[ii]

Like the Israelites, where are we stuck in the things of the past, complacent in our nostalgia for the glory days?

Like Judas, in what ways are we so sure that we know what God thinks and wants and should be doing, that we cannot see other possibilities?

Like Mary, how can we be open to that new thing God is doing, pouring ourselves extravagantly, lovingly into it?

Like Paul, do we put aside the things of the past and eagerly pursue God’s call, that new thing God is doing?


There’s one thing of which I am sure – God is still doing a new thing.  The God who will stop at nothing to reconcile humanity, to restore creation, who gathers us as a mother hen gathers her children to protect them from the foxes of the world, who runs to meet the prodigal and goes out to bring in the elder child, who says no to all the devil’s schemes and yes to life, says to you, to this community today:

Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.  I am about to do a new thing; new it springs forth, do you not perceive it?


[i] ©2001 Nathan Nettleton www.laughingbird.net
[ii] ©2001 Nathan Nettleton www.laughingbird.net

1 comment:

  1. "Pouring ourselves" is very nice. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete