Monday in Holy Week: John 12:1-8

Mary took a pound of costly perfume
made of pure nard, anointed Jesus' feet,
and wiped them with her hair... John 12:3
(Kirsten Malcolm Berry)
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus' feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor? (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, "Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me."

This is the third time in the gospels that we encounter Mary of Bethany. The first time, in Luke, we watch Martha bustle around the house as Mary sits at Jesus' feet, listening to him, having "chosen the better part," as Jesus puts it. The second time, in John, Mary runs out of the house to meet Jesus as he nears the village, falls at his feet, and cries out, "If you had been here, my brother (Lazarus) would not have died!" And then there is today's reading, the third encounter of Jesus and Mary. This time, while Martha serves dinner (staying true to character, indeed!), Mary again settles herself at Jesus' feet, anointing them with perfume and wiping them with her hair.

In a sermon a few weeks back, I referenced my summer as a hospital chaplain, and all the personal challenges and struggles I went through during those eleven weeks. What got me through the hardest days, what pushed me into the rooms of patients and into the center of loved ones, gathered together around the bedside, was a very Martha-like understanding of service. I served and cared for people by finding them coffee or water, by getting them kleenex, by volunteering to find nurses, by offering up my seat, by offering information or by offering to track it down. I served God and served people by keeping busy on their behalf.

I think that many of us function, faith-wise, in Martha-mode. We love God by volunteering at homeless shelters and food pantries. We serve Jesus by helping out at church, signing up for church activities, supporting ministries, and even taking on church and worship leadership roles. We focus on the moving-and-shaking part of our faith development. And all of this is very good. Martha is certainly serving Jesus in a meaningful way by preparing him dinner and making sure that his visit is comfortable and filled with hospitality.

But Mary, on the other hand, seeks to serve and love Jesus by devoting her whole attention to him when he is around. Not devoting her attention to her own actions, but rather to his actions and his words. Sometimes I wonder if the busy parts of my faith are really all about God or all about me. Probably a mix, I suppose. But I think that there are times when being busy in faith is more about being busy than it is about faith.

I don't offer myself many opportunities to be un-busy in faith, to sit still, to be honest about myself and to honestly seek Jesus. Mary is always real in front of Jesus - no flurry of actions to hide behind - and she understands the reality of the Jesus whom she admires. This is why she anoints his feet so extravagantly: Jesus knows her, and she knows Jesus. She knows who he is and what he is about to do. And she knows - deeply knows! - that what Jesus is about to do is for her sake.

In this Holy Week, my challenge to myself is to grab spaces to slow down, to let Jesus really know me and see me, and to move toward Easter knowing ever more deeply that Jesus' death and resurrection are not just vague, general actions, but that they took place FOR ME.

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