Sunday, March 23, 2014

Anointed: Wednesday Evening Medititation on John 12:1-8

Scripture can be found here...

You have to understand: every day there was a party.

Every day, beginning with the day her brother had done what no one does.  Every day, beginning with the day he had stumbled, bound in strips of cloth, out of a tomb. No. He had not been the pall-bearer. He had been the dead man at that funeral.

Now that Lazarus was alive again, every day there was a party.

The house was ever swarming with guests. Relatives. Friends. The oldest living uncle, carried by his equally ancient friends from a town miles away. All, there to celebrate. To break bread. To drink wine, which flowed as if from a miraculous, bottomless source. The house was filled with their laughter, with their songs, with the aromas of the foods that were brought in and prepared. It was like a wedding! Lazarus was alive again.

Now, many, it is true, came for other reasons. There were the hired mourners, somewhat put out that their paying gig had come to an abrupt and premature end. They came to make certain the family of Lazarus the dead man was not trying, simply, to get out of an expensive contract. And then there were the religious authorities, who had a certain gift of entering a room and draining it of all life, noise, and joy. They looked Lazarus over as if he were a horse for sale. One of them made him open his mouth to show his teeth. After they left, he’d shown them for hours, grinning, laughing, singing, and eating.

Every day there was a party. And finally, on the seventh day of celebrating, Jesus joined them.  

She had been waiting for him to come. She had known it was only a matter of time. Of course he would stop by on his way to Jerusalem for the Passover. And when he did, she, Mary, would have a gift for him.

The tenor of a party when Jesus was there was unlike the other parties. That’s because those who didn’t know him came into his presence with a kind of shyness, or wariness. He was known—he had preached in the temple and on the streets, he had performed astonishing signs and miracles. He was known as a personage of importance, perhaps a prophet, a religious leader in his own slightly off-center right. The parties would thus begin on a more somber note.

That is, until Jesus spoke. Then, something would happen to those around him… they would understand, almost immediately, that with him they were in the presence of someone utterly unlike anyone they had ever encountered. They would know instinctively, intuitively, that in him, they were in the presence of pure love.

That is what Mary wanted to convey to him. Pure love. Pure gratitude. She wanted to say, “I see you, I understand who you are and what you bring.” And so that night, at the end of the meal, as her sister Martha poured wine from a jug into cups that were nearly empty, and as her brother Lazarus leaned against Jesus, listening intently, his newborn eyes shining, Mary slipped from the room. She went to the place she and her sister slept, and took from a high shelf a jar of alabaster, holding a foolishly large quantity of oil of spikenard, the most expensive, most fragrant, most luxurious ointment she could buy. She had spent a small fortune on it. She did not care. She would have spent a thousand great fortunes on it if she could.

She carried the jar into the great room, filled with their guests, satisfied and smiling from the delicious feast and the sweet company. Her siblings both looked up at the same moment, and if they were surprised, neither of them betrayed it. For her part, Mary only had eyes for Jesus. He too was looking at her, but with another expression on his face, one she only understood later.

She knelt in front of him. She took his feet in her hands and broke open the jar, pouring the ointment on his feet. It was lavish. It was wasteful. It was irrational. But it was love.

Immediately the fragrance rose—like the incense in the evening psalm, like the prayers of the pilgrims rise up to heaven. The fragrance rose and danced around the room, and every one inhaled it and sighed at its beauty, and every eye was on Jesus, watching his reaction. He looked down at Mary.

She took a long time. She rubbed the ointment into his feet, feet that had crossed the Holy Land so many times on his journeys. Nazareth to Bethany, to Jerusalem. And back to Bethany, and then to Galilee. Countless miles his feet had walked. He had the feet of a worker, a farmer, strong and calloused, tendons showing through his brown skin. She massaged the fragrant nard into this feet as tenderly, and as lovingly, as if he were a baby. Then she lowered her head, and unpinned the great length of her thick black hair, and it cascaded down onto his feet. She began to wipe his feet with her hair.

No one knew why, but Martha was weeping. Lazarus too. Jesus’ eyes sparkled in the lamplight, but no tears brimmed over. The mood of the room was thoughtful, and perhaps somewhat confused.

Mary was not confused. Mary knew what she was doing. Mary knew the meaning of her actions. It was love. Pure love. Pure gratitude. And, she understood later, only a few short days later, it was the beginning of a wrenching goodbye.

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