From Skeptic to Believer to Disciple to Friend
Since we began this Lenten journey, we have heard from Luke’s
gospel how determined Jesus was to go to Jerusalem and complete God’s plan to
conquer Satan, sin and death through his own death at the hands of political and
But, with only a week to go before Jesus actually enters the Holy City, the Church has given us
a gospel reading from John’s gospel.
And it is not a story about Jesus’ determination to die.
It is a story about time he spent with his friends.
You remember, of course, the story that precedes today’s Gospel.
Jesus was at the Jordan River.
He was there because there were already threats against his life.
While he was preaching at the Jordan, word came from Bethany that his
dear friend Lazarus was ill.
Mary and Martha wanted him to come to Bethany to heal their brother.
But instead, Jesus stayed two more days at the Jordan before making the trip to Bethany.
The disciples tried to stop Jesus, warning him that going back to Judea meant the possibility
that he would be killed.
But Jesus had something important in mind for his disciples and for his friends:
Mary, Martha and Lazarus.
When he arrived in Bethany, Lazarus was already dead four days; so dead that his body stank;
so dead that Jesus stood in front of his tomb and wept for the friend he loved so much.
Then he shouted so loudly that he scared death away.
And Lazarus walked out of the tomb, his burial cloths falling off of him like a cocoon.
And, it is this event, in John’s gospel, that sets in motion everything that was to follow Jesus because
some of those who witnessed Lazarus’ resurrection became believers that day.
But others, knowing that there might be a reward from the Chief Priests and Pharisees, made their way
quickly to Jerusalem to report that Jesus was getting close to Jerusalem.
By raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus had moved from “manageable nuisance” to “serious threat.”
Jesus, knowing that he must die at the Passover, takes his disciples to safety in Ephraim near the wilderness.
This gives the religious authorities time to influence the Roman authorities.
Surely, Pilate would not want this kind of a threat to stability in Jerusalem when hundreds of
thousands were coming to celebrate the Passover.
They had to put Jesus to death – and Lazarus too, since it was on account of Lazarus’ resurrection
that many Jews were becoming believers.
On his way back to Jerusalem (he HAD to go there!) Jesus spends
just one more night with his good friends: Lazarus, Martha and Mary.
Lazarus’ body probably still had the smell of death on it.
Martha, as was Martha’s way, got busy preparing a good meal and a house
of rest - for her Lord, yes; but more than Lord, her friend.
They reclined around the table to eat.
Everything (except maybe Lazarus) smelled good.
They must have talked about the good times they had all had together;
especially that day when Jesus brought Lazarus back to life.
They probably avoided talking about all those rumors about Jesus’ enemies wanting to
hunt him down to kill him.
At some time during the meal, Mary slipped away.
Martha was used to that.
Mary was always disappearing, even when she was sitting right there with everyone else.
Mary would get this look on her face like she was in another place;
like she was listening to music no one else could hear.
Soon, Mary came back holding a clay jar.
Without saying a word, Mary knelt at Jesus’ feet and broke the neck of the jar.
Immediately, the smell of the perfumed salve filled the room – no more dinner smells;
no more stinky Lazarus smells.
The smell was strong but soothing like the incense they knew from their visits to the Temple.
And, as everyone watched, Mary did four things; as remarkable as they were unusual.
She uncovered and unloosed her hair.
In a room full of men, it was not something an honorable Jewish woman ever did.
Then she poured the perfume on Jesus’feet.
They might have understood her anointing Jesus’ head – Jewish kings and prophets were
anointed this way and they thought of Jesus as both a prophet and a king.
Then, horror of horrors, she rubbed the perfumed salve into his weary feet.
A single Jewish woman touching a single man’s feet! Never done!
Then, to top this all off, she used her hair to wipe off the extra salve on his feet.
Most of us are so moved by this story of devotion that we don’t even question its appropriateness.
But Judas noticed it.
He complained that the perfume, which could feed a poor family for an entire year, was used so wastefully.
But Jesus tells Judas and everyone there, “Leave her alone! She has anointed me for my burial.”
Jesus knew that, by her actions, Mary was acting as a prophet.
For you see, perfumed oil was not only used to anoint kings and prophets,
but to anoint those who were to be buried.
By anointing Jesus’ feet, Mary was prophesying that Jesus was soon to die and be buried.
Soon after, during his last meal with his friends, Jesus would set aside his tunic;
wrap a towel around his waist; and wash the feet of his disciples.
Then he would give them a new commandment: Love one another as I have loved you.
Peter will object. Judas will have his feet washed and then leave to betray him.
But many probably remembered the prophet Mary washing Jesus’ feet with precious perfume
and wiping his feet with her hair.
And they will know that she had obeyed this new commandment even before he spoke it.
What does this all mean for us? I believe this tells us about a natural
progression in the lives of all who follow Jesus from skeptic to believer to disciple to friend.
Weeks ago, Mary (and her sister Martha) greeted Jesus at their brother’s tomb saying,
“If only you had been here, Lazarus might not have died. Why did you wait so long?
Why didn’t you heal him? Now he’s dead four days.”
They questioned Jesus.
They questioned his love for them and for their brother.
Maybe they even questioned that Jesus could make it better.
They questioned his love, his friendship, his power, his authority.
Just like we sometimes do!
In today’s Gospel, their friendship and love for Jesus renewed;
and certainly having their faith renewed in Jesus’ power and authority after Lazarus’resurrection,
they were firmly in the category of believers.
But Mary, perhaps because it was her nature, became more than a believer;
she became a true disciple and prophet.
Her faith moved her to act.
That’s what it means to be a disciple – not just to believe but to act.
And sometimes we move beyond faith to act like Jesus.
That’s what Paul is talking about in today’s second lesson.
No longer the skeptic; believing that Jesus is the Christ, Paul tells the Philippians that,
even while he is in prison, his daily life pushes him forward to act;
to BE the crucified and risen Christ; even to his jailors.
And the good news for us today is: no matter where we are at any given moment;
a questioning skeptic; a person of firm faith; a disciple who does God’s work through our own hands;
a loving friend; or a prophet whose dreams and visions give hope to our community –
no matter what, we are loved by God through our Lord and Savior Jesus, the Christ.
Our baptism anoints us into Jesus’ own death and resurrection.
Sealed by the Holy Spirit, nothing can separate us from the love of God.
Now, the only things we have to decide are what we are going to do with that beautiful and extravagant anointing.
Will we follow Jesus during Holy Week with the same devotion that Mary did?
Will we choose to be disciples of action and prophets of hope to the world in our daily living?
God, stay with us as we press onward in love, in peace, with strength and openness to those you call into our