Keeping the Mary’s straight can be pretty difficult. When we read John, however, we pretty much need to forget all the other Mary’s and start over with what John gives us. He takes other traditions from other gospel accounts and makes them his own, telling his own story. They don’t always line up.
In today’s gospel lesson (John 12:1-11), Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, join with their brother to give a dinner for Jesus. These are the sisters who had their brother raised from the dead by Jesus in John 11. This is the Mary who stayed at home when Martha went out to meet Jesus and tell him, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
For John, Mary plays an important role as a proto-Christian, and John 12 is a pivotal chapter for the gospel account. In John 13, Jesus will wash the disciples’ feet, showing them what servanthood really means. Mary already understands. Her gesture of anointing Jesus’ feet with the costly perfume demonstrates her knowledge both of Jesus’ upcoming death and of the ultimate expression of servanthood that that death will represent. It will take the rest of the disciples weeks to figure that out. But Mary—cool and calm—has already embraced the faith that Jesus came to espouse.
Not many of us are Mary’s. I’m usually the last one to get it—to have my heart fall into place. I spend too much time analyzing and questioning and doubting. Mary shows us what it means to be faithful from the start. She shows great faith and substantial leadership in the pre-Christian community. As we journey through Holy Week, how can might we respond to God’s call with faith right from the start?