The Fifth Sunday in Lent; Year C (3/21/2010)

Lessons:Isaiah 43:16-21 Psalm 126 (5) Philippians 3:4b-14 St. John 12:1-8

Prayer of the Day Creator God, you prepare a new way in the wilderness, and your grace waters our desert.  Open our hearts to be transformed by the new thing you are doing, that our lives may proclaim the extravagance of your love given to all through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

12.1 Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3 Mary 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. 4 But 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.) 7 Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

St. John 12:1-8 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

The Anointing of Jesus is a story that each Gospel writer tells, yet there are significant differences among the four accounts we have of this event. Luke (7:36-50) sets it early on in Jesus’ ministry, in the town of Nain, not long after the disciples were chosen. The others (Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9 and today’s text) place it in Bethany, during Holy Week. John remembers it taking place in the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. The others place it in Simon’s home (Matthew & Mark: Simon the Leper; Luke: Simon the Pharisee). Matthew and Mark picture her pouring the ointment over Jesus’ head. Luke and John describe her anointing his feet. Matthew & Mark have the disciples complain. Luke has Simon complain. John has Judas complain. In Luke’s version, Jesus rebukes his host because he didn’t anoint Jesus and she did. In the other accounts Jesus tells them that they will always have the poor with them (and will have ample opportunity to care for them) but they will not always have him – and she has done well to honor him in this way while he is still here. Some have suggested that Matthew and Mark are remembering one story, while Luke and John are referring to a different occasion. Obviously the specific details of this evening cannot be determined with any certainty.

What can be noted is the symbolism of this woman’s act. While others were vying to get close to him, or debating theological issues, or complaining about what this woman wasted, she got it. She understood what he had been teaching them all along: that his life and ministry would lead to his death and resurrection. In an act that closely resembles the anointing of the dead, she prepares him for the fate that so many others were unwilling to consider as a possibility. John says it most clearly: her anointing is connected with his burial. She does, on this day, what there will not be time to do as the Sabbath closes in on the evening of Good Friday.

Why did Mary perform this act? Perhaps she was overwhelmed after Jesus raised her brother Lazarus from the dead (in John 11), and wanted to show her gratitude. Perhaps it was a way for her to display her complete devotion to him (as he would later show his complete devotion to his followers, by dressing as a servant and washing their feet on Maundy Thursday). Perhaps she understood, in some way, what was coming for Jesus (after all, Luke 10 teaches us that she was particularly devoted to his teachings). Whether or not she realized the significance of her actions, Mary has honored Jesus here in a way that no other would. And in doing so, she has revealed to us what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. It means to pay close attention to his every word. It means to serve him with all that we have. It means to let the death and resurrection become our hope and joy.

A simple meal is transformed into a powerful moment as Mary anoints Jesus for his death. Our simple meal each Sunday becomes a powerful moment as he is made present anew among us. May we, like she, be touched by his presence, and empowered to serve him with our lives.


David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring this week's text: 1. How do you understand what Mary did for Jesus at this meal? 2. Why did Judas respond so differently? 3. What do Jesus’ words about the poor mean?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel: 1. How do I worship Jesus, and honor what he has done for me? 2. When have I responded to God’s grace in an extravagant manner? 3. How might my concern for the poor today honor what Jesus said to Mary and the other?