Gospel for Monday in Holy Week: John 12:1-11
Six 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.
Jesus comes to eat with his friends. Did they invite him or was he passing through? Either way, this is one of his last moments to rest, to be with the people he loves and to the reality of being bodily present in creation. It is easy to forget that when Jesus walked the earth, he was Emmanuel, God-with-us, among people, plants and animals. While we trust that God’s Spirit remains present with us even now, in these last days Jesus was seeing creation with the eyes of both Creator and Begotten.
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, 5Why 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.)
O Judas, how the Evangelist (the writer of the Fourth Gospel) wants us to know that Satan was causing your actions. In the author’s effort to be sure we understand the work of the power of darkness, you get a little lost in the shuffle. The poor don’t remain because they are a necessity or inevitable, but because people will usually use their money for something else. The Evangelist wants us to know that you never had a pure heart, a thief from the beginning. For me, that feels like an attempt by a later gospel writer who wants to believe that Jesus would never willingly allow someone to follow him who would later betray him. Remember, Evangelist, Jesus was human and, in that humanness, sometimes he didn’t choose friends as carefully as he might. Judas, thief or no, at this stage, can we blame you for your confusion, your poor choices, your betrayal?
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."
Mary figures out what Jesus’ new commandment is before he says it. She understands, “Love one another as I have loved you.” Burial spices were expensive and couldn’t be casually. She probably can’t anticipate what’s coming, but she knows that this man brings new teaching, restores her brother and carries a new experience of the Holy Spirit with him. She feels it in her encounters with him. She understands, in some way, that the love she feels for Jesus is new and needs new expression. Wiping his feet, an extravagant gift both financially and physically gives her the chance to act on what she cannot put into words. Would that we, the disciples of today, could be so eloquent.
9When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, 11since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.
I was recently listening to Meredith Gould on God Complex Radio and she pointed out that the Fourth Gospel makes it seem like there was one great homogenous group of Jews. Within the category of authorities there were Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes and others about whom we don’t fully know or understand. These were men trained in specialized functions and who were the religious leaders of the people. You can no more assign a blanket appellation to them than you could to any assortment of religious leaders you might be able to assemble in your town. There were crowds seeking to understand and believe whether Jesus was the Messiah. The word that Jesus had raised someone from the dead certainly contributed to that conversation.
The authorities had reason to be afraid of the power of Rome if many people were claiming a king other Caesar. Furthermore, Jesus argues and elaborates on Scripture in the Pharisaical tradition. Certainly, there word have been leaders who would have feared losing their power to an “upstart”, but that happens now.
Consider your own emotions in your faith journey. When you have wondered about the absence of God? When you felt God’s presence? Surely if we, who already have heard of the resurrection, feel confusion, doubt and wonder, then all the more would those who followed Jesus hoping for clarity of vision and seeking to understand Jesus as the Christ, God’s anointed.
Lord, on this Holy Monday, we pray for those who spend of themselves in love for others. Strengthen them, renew them and bless them with the knowledge of your presence. We pray for those who feel trapped in a cycle of poor choices. Open their eyes to the options around them. Lift the barriers that hold them back and send your Spirit to energize them in moving forward into new hope. Be with our Jewish brothers and sisters, the pioneers of our faith. Help us to understand your covenant with all people and to speak the words of truth and grace that you long for your creation to understand. Amen.