Fifth Sunday of Lent

& archive, Year C.

Lord Jesus Christ,
You see how bent over we are
Under the weight of the world’s habits.
Unburden us
Clear the path within our soul
Lift up our heads to see you
Our hearts to love you
To follow you
To stay with you.

Fifth Sunday in Lent

In the midst of the mounting storm of opposition, Jesus and his followers seek lodging in Bethany, two miles from Jerusalem. Judas is brooding in his mind about crossing the line and defecting to the opposition. The high priest, chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees are moving into collusion with Sadducees and Herodians in a scheme to arrest Jesus with intent to kill. But here in Bethany a family of friends offers a quiet oasis of rest and hospitality. We are invited to join Jesus and his followers at table alongside Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. Listen as John sits with us and shares his narrative in John 12:1-8.

Martha has learned to lay aside the anxiety that could thrust her into self-pitying and vindictive attack. Focused and at ease with her gift of hospitality and homemaking, she provides a meal for Jesus and the disciples. Mary, whose gift is an inner hospitality of soul–that inner knowing of what lays ahead–has room at the table of her heart to hear Jesus speak of his rejection, suffering, and death. Both sisters are thankful for Lazarus who is able to sit with Jesus at table. Lazarus has known death, and he knows the journey back. He had heard Jesus call his name as he lay in the dark shadow of Hades, and the gates of death could not prevent his exodus.

John remembers watching as Martha pays attention to serving food and then as Mary enters the room carrying a jar of oil of spikenard. He notes how anger follows surprise among the disciples when she breaks open the jar and anoints Jesus’ head and feet, then kneels to wipe his feet with her hair. The fragrance lingers in John’s memory; he recalls the house being filled with the scent of spikenard. Judas, in charge of the common purse, voices their indignation: “Why was this perfume not =sold for three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor?” No one should be wasting costly spikenard, pouring it out as if it were common water from a well!

Jesus is not caught up in their reaction. Instead, he confronts their power play against Mary, saying, ”Leave her alone!” Then he offers some spiritual guidance: “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.”

Earlier, while at table with Simon the Pharisee, another woman had entered the room. She is not given a name, only a label: a “woman in the city, who was a sinner” (Luke 7:36-50) Like Mary, she also brought a jar of ointment. Weeping, she bathed Jesus’ feet with her tears, kissed them, and anointed them. Like the disciples, Simon was critical and wondered why Jesus would allow such a woman to even touch him. Jesus responded by asking Simon, “Do you see this woman?” Of course Simon saw her. But Jesus was directing Simon’s attention to seeing with the eyes of the soul—to see as Jesus sees.

Mary sees with the eyes of her soul—a contemplative gaze that is receptive to the suffering and death Jesus will embrace. In response, she anoints Jesus for his death and burial. The anointing is a ritual act, speaking without words, a kind of knowing that draws our thinking and reason into a place of receptive transformation.

The followers of Jesus were still not ready to accept Jesus’ words about his arrest, suffering, death, and resurrection. They wonder about this talk of anointing him for his burial. Is he going mad? Is Mary as crazy as he is? But Jesus is patient. He knows that the approaching storm is moving against their defenses of unbelief and denial and will finally transform their understanding of how he, the Messiah, brings freedom and restoration to the world.

For your reflection:

As you walk into the house within this narrative, notice where you are in relation
to the persons gathered there, in relation to Jesus. What do you find your self
doing, not doing?
What is your response as you see Mary anointing Jesus?
As you hear the criticism of Judas and the disciples?
As you hear Jesus’ defense of Mary’s gift and action?
In what way would you like to express your soul and feelings to Jesus as the
days draw close to his arrest, trial, suffering, crucifixion, and burial?

Dear Lord,
Help me to listen
Free me from being blind to who you are
Release me from captivity to the world’s ways
Help me to listen
Help me to see as you see.

Fifth Sunday in Lent
3/11 Monday: John 12:1-3
3/12 Tuesday: John 12:4-8
3/13 Wednesday: Psalm 126
3/14 Thursday: Isaiah 43:16-21
3/15 Friday: Philippians 3:4b-14
3/16 Saturday: John 12:1-3
3/17 Sunday: John 12:4-8