Monday, March 25, 2013

Monday in HW - Mary's Faith

You know those moments that are so powerful that you can tell they will make a good story even before they finish playing out? I think the anointing of Jesus was one of those moments. The funny thing, though, is how differently the gospel writers tell it.

·         Mark presents an anonymous woman who pours a flask of ointment made of pure nard on Jesus’ head, causing some to question whether it should have been sold and the money given to the poor. (Mark 14:3-9)

·         Matthew tells almost the same story, but this time it’s the disciples who question whether the ointment should have been sold and the money given to the poor. (Matthew 26:6-13)

·         Luke changes the story completely. Although the name of the dinner host (Simon) remains the same, in Luke’s version Jesus and his companions are eating in a Pharisee’s house, and “a woman of the city, who was a sinner,” comes and anoints Jesus’ feet, wetting them with her tears, wiping them with her hair, and anointing them with the ointment. He omits the exchange about the ointment being sold and the money given to the poor and replaces it with a teaching about forgiveness. (Luke 7:36-50)

·         John, whose account of this story we heard in church a few weeks ago and again today, tells the story more like Mark and Matthew, but he adds his own twists. Instead of eating at Simon’s house, Jesus is at the home of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha—his friends in Bethany. Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with the costly ointment, and there’s an exchange about whether it should have been sold for the sake of the poor, but John identifies the objector as Judas—the thief betrayer of Jesus. (John 12:1-11)

Since the gospel appointed for today is John’s version, I find myself asking, “Why did John tell the story the way he did?”

·         Instead of an anonymous woman, John identifies the anointer as Mary, one of Jesus’ closest friends. The physical contact made between man and woman in this scene is a loving touch shared among friends.

·         By singling out Judas as the thief who objected to the use of the ointment, John tempts us to ignore a legitimate question—should the ointment have been sold and the money given to the poor?

·         This chapter in John’s gospel account comes right after the raising of Lazarus in chapter 11. Jesus has shown Mary (and her sister Martha) that he has the power to raise the dead. That miracle, a foreshadowing of Jesus’ own death and resurrection, has given Mary the confidence and faith needed to approach the end of Jesus’ life in the right mindset. She might be the only one. She can tell that Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem in order to be killed and rise again. She uses this costly perfume not only as a gesture of love but as an expression of faith. She embraces Jesus’ death in a way that no one else does.

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