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Wednesday, March 21, 2007
There are moments in life that call for extravagance, moments when we must lay aside calculation and caution, and give of ourselves wholeheartedly. Mary is a model of such an outpouring of love and devotion. Some things are worth giving all that we have and all that we are. John 12:1–8 The author of John’s gospel offers us the contrast between two very different responses to Jesus by the disciples. In the patriarchal culture of Jesus’ time, Mary is a most unlikely model of true discipleship, but that is how she is portrayed. Mary understands who Jesus is and the significance of the events that are taking place. Mary understands, believes, and acts. Judas is portrayed as a self-centred, bitter thief. He appears unwilling or unable to appreciate the significance of the moment. Elsewhere, this gospel predicts that there will be many who see but not understand (John 1:11; 6:36, 9:39). Mary’s act is extravagant and beautiful. “A pound of nard” is no bottle of cheap scent from a discount shop, but a luxury item worth nearly a year’s wage, according to Judas. The act is also beautiful in the intimacy of the scene John portrays: the table of food, the company of friends, the effusion of scent throughout the room, and the locks of Mary’s hair caressing Jesus’ feet. Judas raises a logical, if difficult, question about the appropriateness of such an extravagant gift. Shouldn’t the nard have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor? Jesus affirms the importance of Mary’s gift. In verse 8, Jesus reminds the disciples of their responsibility to continue to offer aid to those who are poor (see Deuteronomy 15:11) after his death. Jesus upholds Mary’s decision to love and serve him while it is possible to do so. Mary gives herself to what she knows and believes about Jesus. It was Jesus who raised her brother Lazarus from the dead. Like John the Baptizer at the opening of this gospel, Mary sees and testifies in her act of anointing that Jesus is “the chosen one” (1:34). Mary ministers to Jesus in a way that mirrors the ways he has ministered to her and her loved ones, and also anticipates the new thing that Jesus will do for all people in his extravagant, self-giving death and resurrection. Isaiah 43:16–21 anticipates that God will do a “new thing” (verse 19). For the people of Israel, the exodus from Egypt was a moment of God’s extravagant love. In this text the new thing God will do is portrayed as a kind of second exodus. God will redeem the people from exile and restore them. This new thing is about to happen; this is the moment. Who will recognize it? In Psalm 126 we encounter an ecstatic outpouring of joy for all God has done in the past. We can almost hear the “hoorah” of those who have been suddenly and unexpectedly saved from disaster. This psalm is also a prayer, bidding God once again to turn human weeping into joy. Like Mary pouring out her love by anointing Jesus with expensive perfume, Paul shows his desire to know Christ in Philippians 3:4b–14 by pouring out his credentials and achievements. Paul considers these designations to be rubbish (the Greek word also means “dung” or “excrement”) in comparison to the new life to be gained in Christ. During Lent the church anticipates Easter. In these readings we anticipate the extravagant outpouring of God’s love that raises us to new life with Christ. In what ways do you perceive the outpouring of God’s love in your life? In what ways are you willing to pour out the love of Christ through your life?

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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