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Monday, March 7, 2016

Lent 5C March 13, 2016

Quotes That Make Me Think

"I know, on the narrative level Jesus is talking to Judas, both reprimanding him as well as interpreting Mary’s gift. But given my own strong reaction both to the cost of Mary’s gift and the intimacy with which she gives it – washing his feet with her hair? really? – I wonder if Jesus is not also addressing himself to me and perhaps to all of us who shrink back from such unconventional and excessive outpourings of faith, love, and service."

"Questions about Discipleship," David Lose, Working Preacher, 2013.

"And so the hardest question for me becomes, how do we preach the love of Christ, who fed and healed people, in the light of Jesus saying, 'The poor will always be with us?'"

"The Poor Will Always Be With You," Carol Howard Merrit, The Hardest Question, 2013.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons


Infinite is your compassion, O God, and gracious the pardon that Jesus, the Teacher, offers to every sinner who stands before him. Gladden our hearts at the word that sends us on our way in peace; and grant that we, who have been forgiven so much, may embrace as brothers and sisters every sinner who joins us at this feast of forgiveness. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year C, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on John 12:1-11
Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

We take a break from the Lukan journey to the cross this week in Lent as we pause for special material out of the Johannine chronicle of Jesus’ last days. Here we have a meal; probably Saturday evening after the Sabbath has ended (as in John’s Gospel that is from Friday to Saturday). It could in fact be the traditional meal to end Sabbath – the Habdalah. Furthermore, we are told the meal is taking place in the town of Bethany identified with the raising of Lazarus.
Mary Anoints Jesus' Feet by Frank Wesley

Following the meal something crazy happens: "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."

This is what I found out about this particular and costly perfume. The perfume is myron which is a generic form made from nard rather than from myrrh. Nard is mixed with oil from the storax shrub to create an ointment. This is not the kind of perfume the Magi brought with them but it is nothing less than a kings fortune to obtain it. Judas points this out.

Judas is identified in scripture as the son of Simon. A little family tree from the New Testament scholar J. N. Sanders places Jesus in the house of Simon the leper. Simon the leper is father to his eldest son Judas Iscarot, Lazarus whom Jesus raised, and then Mary and Martha. Sanders describes Judas as a “masculine Martha gone wrong!” (As quoted in Raymond Browne, Anchor Bible, v 29, p 448) Judas is then a brother of Mary, and the rest.

Judas is not happy and says, “'Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?' (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.)"

If we remember that one denarri was a day’s wage. We then can do a little biblical math to understand that 300 silver pieces or denarri is indeed a great sum. This means that we have a lot of money being spent on the anointing. As Browne puts it, “this was a pound of expensive perfume indeed.” (448) It is fascinating to think about the amount of bread this could really have purchased. Interesting comparisons on the amount can be found here: It would be like a minimum wage employee going out and spending $18,000 on perfume.

Jesus then weighs in, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial."

(Just as an aside there is some debate about this piece of scripture as Mary has no role in the embalming of Jesus. So, it doesn't make much sense.)

Jesus then says something even more unexpected, "You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” We are then told, "When 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. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus."

This is of course a quote from scripture, a paraphrase of Deuteronomy 15:11: “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land”.

So what do we make of the passage? Certainly John is leaning on a synoptic tradition that many scholars believe he had some access to, specifically Mark’s Gospel.  I think you are liable to miss the point by focusing your attention on whether John and the synoptics are describing the same scene.  John seems to have a unique message. 

It is my belief that we have here THE anointing for his burial in John's Gospel. That the tender moment described, and completely missed by Judas and so many of us on our first reading, is that this is in fact Jesus’ anointing and preparation for death. This is happening at this moment at Simon’s house where his children, raised from the dead, the doers, the prayers, and the rebels all gather together for a meal. All nature of follower of Jesus is here and they are all witnessing a most powerful and incredibly intimate moment. This is as Raymond Browne writes, “the culminating expression of loving faith.”

I am always moved by this story when we reach this moment in our Lenten journey. In part because I find my senses have been tuned to a great devotion of our Lord, and so I am truly touched and begin to prepare myself for Holy Week and the veneration of the glorious cross; not out of a sense of rehearsing the past but out of a truly contrite heart’s desire to give thanks for the grace and love Jesus expresses for us.

The moment of anointing stands in stark contrast to the backdrop of a Gospel very rarely focused on Jesus. 

In John’s Gospel we are constantly being reminded that all of this is for us and for the Glory of God. His goal is the restoration of creation. His work is to reorient our eyes upon God and to direct our prayers to his father who is in heaven. So here in this moment is John and the synoptics giving us a glimpse into what our glorious and venerable worship of Jesus might indeed be like were we to observe it with the faith of Mary.

Let us not forget Judas though; it is as he points out an extravagant moment when tremendous amounts of wealth are being literally poured upon a man’s feet. But let us take a few steps back theologically and look at the whole testimony of scripture. We must remember Jesus’ connection of himself with the poor from the Gospel of Matthew, 25.31ff:

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

We are then tempted to mix the two passages and be reminded that Jesus is with us always in the poor. And that we have an opportunity to anoint the poor with service in such an extravagant manner, not unlike Mary in the anointing of Jesus. How would our towns and cities be changed if we through our great devotion to Jesus Christ, anointed the poor with fine oil?

Some Thoughts on Philippians 3:4-14

We switch from Paul's focus on the Corinthians (who are having all kinds of trouble) to his letter addressed to the emerging church in Philippi.  

Just before this passage he has been speaking of how Jesus is the example of servanthood and in the most recent passages from this letter Paul has been warning that some Christian traditions will try and make you follow the Jewish law.  Circumcision is only one item, but the the issue is that Paul believes the new tradition is different from the old.  I believe Paul is saying we are not simply Jews with Jesus; this is a greater revelation.  Our relationship with the law has changed because of the ministry of Jesus.  Paul turns this religious law on its head and says: true circumcision is of the heart – and not of the “flesh”.

As an example of the need to circumcise the heart Paul speaks of his own experience.  He speaks from his own experience as a good and religious Jew.  He was circumcised and he was from the tribe of Benjamin.  I love how he describes this, he was "a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless".  He even was a persecutor of the Christians who he thought were lawless!  

Yet, through knowing Christ he has come to understand that when you follow the law you lose.  The law itself obstructs God's love.  If you believe that you are saved or special because you are following the law and being religious then you are engaging in what he calls "rubbish".

The obverse is true.  Christ chooses us. Christ loves us.  Christ suffers under the law so that we do not need to suffer.  We are redeemed and we live anew because of his resurrection.  Our faith in Christ, not godly law abiding citizenship in accordance with legal precepts, is what brings righteousness.  He writes that he, "not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith."

This confession of faith begins the work of transformation.  It bears fruit but the confession itself cannot turn into some new way of doing the work.  We are being transformed from within.  We are, through the power of his resurrection being made new.  Our understanding of life following Christ is our response to this love.  Our Christ like life is our response to God making us his own.  

Paul leaves us with this:  "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus."

It reminds me of Paul's words from Ephesians 3: God's "power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine"

Anthony Frederick Augustus Sandys. Mary Magdalene. ca. 1860.

Carlo Dolci Magdalena

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