The Gospel according to John 12: 1–11 Preached at St Luke’s Enmore Sunday 22 January 2017
This is a really spine tingling passage. The gospel writer Mark, writing, in my view, of this same event that we have just read in John, says “where ever the gospel is preached in the whole world what Mary has done will be told in memory of her” … amazing isn’t it! The village of Bethany in the 1st century Jesus says when the gospel is preached this story will be told in memory of Mary, or in honour of her… and here we are in Sydney 2000 years later telling this story and remembering and honouring Mary of Bethany.
Honouring women is something that we are struggling with as a society at the moment, let alone in the church… There are ways in which we need to repent of the many ways in which we do not honour women; one woman killed every week by her partner… we are not doing well.
Domestic violence is a real issue….some women in society and the church are living in fear and terror. At hospital this week two women talked with me about their experience of this very issue and are struggling under the weight of it.
Often behind closed doors women suffer violence and bullying at the hands of a controlling and diminishing partner. So Jesus call to honour Mary has a very contemporary resonance.
In our gospel reading today we find Mary, who is often presented as a bit docile, breaking her cultural rules by leaving the kitchen and being in the living room, not normally her place and kneeling and touching Jesus, something forbidden to woman of her day. She is saying, this is where I want to be, I’m breaking out of the traditional role because I need to be with Jesus.
Mary took a risk in anointing Jesus, I wonder if you have ever taken a risk in doing something that was a bit ‘out there’ and been criticized for it, you might have made yourself vulnerable, or given someone a compliment, or been very generous, and somebody says something kind of sharp, ‘what did you do that for?’ It’s a horrible experience to be on the end of and that it is exactly what Judas does.
Mary has poured perfume on Jesus feet, worth a whole year’s wages… a huge gift- amazing generosity. And what does Judas do, he criticises, ‘what did you do that for, could have given that to the poor’ as if he cared about the poor… he is a thief and in love with money… even giving to the poor needs to come out of a ‘Mary type’ devotion generosity, not a sense of duty that has a jarring edge to it.
Jesus explanation of what she has done is that she has anointed him for burial. Jesus himself makes the connection that it is a burial anointing, that is the meaning he gives it, so Jesus is pointing to 6 days down the track to when he will die… and he seems to say that it is Mary who gets what is in store for him way before anyone else. Mary preparing him for death, it is an intimate and insightful thing that she does as she makes herself vulnerable with a generous offering in terms of the value of the gift and the intention of the heart.
It is as she goes right out on a limb in her love for Jesus and in her adoration and worship of Jesus, at that beautiful and intimate moment Judas tramples all over it with his criticism. Jesus steps right in… ‘leave her alone…”
Perhaps you know the experience of having someone come to your rescue like that- you turn from shrinking to expanding as a person… you are beginning to feel crushed and then when rescued you feel you can stand and breathe… that is what Jesus actually does for all who come to him, when we have the voice of an accuser the voice of Jesus speaks grace and mercy and protection. It’s what Christian community should be at its best where we allow people to flourish and to expand, a place where that soul destroying criticism has no home.
Three times Mary of Bethany is mentioned in the Bible and each time she is at the feet of Jesus… some may think it’s a kind of meek and mild thing, a kind of doe eyed self-negating activity… but actually this picture of Mary is a great picture for us of letting nothing get in the way of the adoration of Jesus… now I’m a bit uncomfortable with adoration language, it can sound a bit soppy… but really the heart of the Christian life is a life surrendered to Jesus, it took guts and determination for Mary to express that and it takes guts for us to do it to… especially in the face of militant atheism and in the face of the Royal Commission when those who allege to follow Christ have behaved so appallingly and where the Church has actually prevented people from seeing Christ because of its own sin.
It can be hard to retain a posture of devotion and surrender. We may have messages in our head to add to the messages from outside that sound like Judas, what did you do that for. A surrendered life can be a hard life to live when everyone around us is pushing themselves forward, pushing their views forward, the Christian call is to discern Gods voice amidst all the other voices and respond, like Mary, with love and devotion. A love and devotion that builds our resilience and hope.
Mary portrays really the heart of the Christian life for us, because everything in our walk with God comes out of surrender to God and worship of him, that’s where our life flows from. If it doesn’t come from there it comes from our own effort, our own desperate attempt to make God love us and be acceptable to him, it comes from a life with Christ at its core…summed up so beautifully by the prayer of Ignatius… Lord give me only your love and your grace they are enough for me…