Scripture for this Sunday:
Isaiah 43.16–21; Psalm 126; Philippians 3.4b–14; John 12.1–8
It is often instructive and enlightening to put ourselves in the place of the different characters in biblical situations. This week, we have Martha, Mary, Judas and Jesus and other disciples at a nice little dinner party to celebrate the restoration of life to Lazarus. Then Mary does something outlandish and, to use a vernacular expression, it all kicks off.
Where is Jesus in this? He’s been facing threats to his life for most of the three years of his ministry. He’s been a champion of the poor, and yet he accepts Mary’s extravagant anointing.
There’s Mary, giving an expression of love and caring which perhaps has more significance than she even realises. There’s Judas, who at the time is evidently a trusted member of the group (no one entrusts the common purse to a suspected criminal!), voicing words of concern and dismay. And there’s Martha, serving, presiding over a pleasant meal together until her sister does something that makes it all blow up.
Let’s try placing ourselves in each of these roles. And before we try to distance ourselves from any one of them, consider this modern analogy.
When someone close to us (as Jesus was to Mary) is faced with something that is life-threatening (such as cancer), do we tell them to get on with it and die and, to quote Mr Scrooge unseasonably, ‘decrease the surplus population?’ No. Hardly. We encourage them to seek treatment that will prolong life – and for those we love we would go to any lengths, no matter how extravagant, to be given the gift of more time with them.
We may not anoint them with oil, but we anoint them with the very expensive products of the pharmaceutical companies and medical equipment suppliers. We don’t suggest that the money should be spent on improving the life of large numbers of poor people – although it could, of course. There we are with Mary.
We might draw similar analogies with the roles of the others in this incident. A week later, everyone’s perceptions would have been altered, as the dead body of Jesus awaited anointing. Something to ponder. As is the problem that the poor are very much still with us. Maybe we should be doing something about them while we have life and health.
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