Passion Expressed John 12: 1-8

passover lambThe season of Passover would make the most sense for the Lamb of God to march into the Holy City. The faithful are commemorating the sacrifice of a lamb; retelling how their ancestors had to paint their doorpost with the blood of the lamb that protects them from the angel of death. God’s Lamb of God won’t allow them to write the heavenly script as they wish.

Jesus’ days were numbered raising a ruckus in Bethany among the religious leaders for raising Lazarus from the grave. They decided if you couldn’t count on dead people staying dead when Jesus is around, they’d see to it that Jesus isn’t around. Within a week, Jesus will be dead—and then undead; we’ll leave that good news for Easter.

Jesus leaves Bethany to escape to the wildness one last time before going to Jerusalem. He isn’t there to prepare his messiah inaugural speech, so to rally the masses against an oppressive government to make peace. He goes to the wilderness to prepare to lay down his life as an offering from God and to God because God so love the world and wants a peace that passes understanding to dawn upon each one of us.Jesus Christ crown of thorns and nail

Catch the scent of a text; the smell lingering in their noses made such an impression that caused all four gospel writers pen this story; thought their accounts differ in detail. Yet, they all tell how Jesus returns back to Bethany from Ephraim, his hiding spot in the wilderness, to dine with his friends Lazarus, Martha and Mary. John says they gave a dinner, using a word that is used to refer to the Last Supper with his disciples. This meal with friends in Bethany prefigures his last meal with his disciples in Jerusalem, which prefigures the holy meal we partake today. May we find ourselves in this woman as we come to this table.

Lazarus is at the table, being recently undead. Martha is in the kitchen; showing Jesus how much she loves him in her own way. Mary is close to Jesus, leaving the dishes to Martha. The disciples are there, washing their own feet; it doesn’t say Mary went round the table washing everyone’s feet.

Mary-Anoints-JesusMary is the only woman in a room with fourteen men, 12 disciples, Lazarus, and Jesus. We sense Mary goes straight to Jesus in a very socially awkward and unselfconscious way. She bends down to anoint Jesus’ feet with nard, a liquid perfume made from plant extracts in the Orient. She uses the whole bottle, twelve ounces by Roman measure or three bottles of perfume for us. She pulls the pins out of her hair and rubs his feet with her locks. It sounds scandalous the way she intimately anoints Jesus’ feet. It may have embarrassed others. Mary isn’t fazed; it’s just the two of them as far as she is concerned. Who cares when the scent of love is in the air?

The scent of it incenses Judas: Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii [year’s wages] and the money given to the poor? He looks at Mary’s lavish love instead of smelling scents; he smells cents. He makes his case; this act of love is a spiritual fling that wastes money that could be used for others. Judas may feel is dead right, but John exposes his dead wrong motives in the text; telling us in parentheses, he didn’t really care about the poor; after all he’s pilfering the community purse.spend-money-wisely

We all have a little moral Judas in us; pointing out less than judicious ways people misuse money while ignoring the needs of others. We’re indignant when we see someone pay for junk food with food stamps and climb into their Cadillac. Yet, we don’t say a word when we spend $3.75 on Grande’ Latte at Starbucks; knowing that would buy a half pound of Maxwell House and we could give the difference to the poor. Tension must exist on how we spend money; or we too easily believe our excuses why we’re not more generous in giving to others, yet very generous with ourselves. Any effort to frame our case like Judas; making a moral statement, won’t hold water with Jesus. We can’t let go of the tension-if we’ve money to travel and drive nice cars; we must significantly give money to help others.

However, we must rightly understand what Jesus meant when he said, “the poor you have with you always, but you do not always have me.” He doesn’t mean we should give only to him and not worry about the poor, who can only blame themselves for being poor. He means we always have a chance to show our love of the poor. He wants them not to miss this moment; it was the time to show their love for him. If we keep missing the present moment and it’s need before us, our generosity will only happen in theory, not in deed.   Right now, Jesus is before them and us.

francis after electionA Brazilian colleague sidled up to Cardinal Bergoglio in the Sistine Chapel as he was elected Pope. He whispers, “Don’t forget about the poor”. That moment caused him to take the name of Francis, after St. Francis of Assisi, the son of a rich man who forsook his family’s wealth, publicly trading his expensive clothes for peasant robes. When Pope Francis stepped on the balcony for the first time, he wasn’t wearing the bejeweled cross or the red Prada shoes. Pope Francis’ humility and attention to the poor teaches us what Jesus meant, meet the need right before you at this present moment.

Mary is the most alive person in the story. Maybe, Lazarus’s near death causes her to realize how precious is life. She sees the man who got her brother out of the grave is getting himself into one soon. She catches the scent of death and unwittingly anoints his body for burial; using perfume she could have used on her brother Lazarus. She wasn’t saving it for a practical occasion; it would’ve been wasted, since he didn’t stay dead. Mary saved it for just the right moment. She won’t let the moment pass without letting love have its way and her heart have its say. She wouldn’t live to regret not loving, so she dies to any sense of holding her love back.joemonroe

When a person dies, we often feel we didn’t get to say and do all the things we wished we could have said or done. Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe drifted apart in their marriage. After she married and then divorced Arthur Miller, they saw each other again. Some say they were planning to remarry before she died suddenly. Joe saw to the private funeral arrangements. The Times said he leaned over her casket to say over and over, I love you, I love you, I love you. For the next twenty years, Joe put fresh flowers on her grave twice a week. He is said to have blamed himself for her death.

We want to be generous like Mary, seeing the need and then wildly giving ourselves to the need out of a heart of love and devotion. I’ve never met a person who says, I’ll go with stingy. We are what we do, not what we say. We can’t keep counting the cost of love; love knows no cost. We can’t keep holding on to something when its only good is letting it go in love. We can’t keep measuring how lavish will we be with a life that is eternal.

cabaosse_cacaoIn Chocolat the most interesting character in the small French village is the mayor. He is totally buttoned up, keeping a careful hand on the morals of the town. He delights in Lent, making sure no one is tempted to enjoy anything but self-denial. We eventually learn he’s masking his own forlorn heart; he’s dying from the lack of love. The chocolat is a metaphor how we stifle love; holding our hearts too closely rather than letting them know to the joy relishing in God-given love and giving that love away to others.

Understanding the difference between self-indulgence and self-control is key. Trying to control love is impossible and dangerous to our health. We can indulge in the unabashed love of God; trusting lavish love leads to a life engaged in passionate endeavors for the sake of the love of Christ. Go ahead and indulge ourselves in loving Christ; letting nothing comes between offering passionate love to others. Allow that scent of love to mark our way to the cross, as it did for Jesus. May the fragrance of our love for Jesus, each other and the stranger fill and fulfill us during these remaining days of Lent and into a week of passion? i love indulgence

Published in: on April 7, 2014 at 6:58 am  Leave a Comment  

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