5 LENT - C - 16 JOHN 12: 1-8
“Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany…” Our Lenten journey has brought us very near to the Holy City to the small village of Bethany, a mere two miles southeast of Jerusalem on the slopes of the Mount of Olives. Jesus and his disciples have been invited to a dinner party in the home of his dear friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus whom he has recently raised from the dead.
As usual, Martha is serving while Lazarus sits at table with Jesus and the disciples. Mary is again sitting at Jesus’ feet not merely listening as she did on his prior visit to their home, but instead she is engaged in an act of love. She anoints Jesus’ feet with an expensive ointment and wipes them with her hair.
The disciples are dumb struck. No self respecting Jewish woman would ever let her hair down in public, must less in the company of so many men.
Judas alone speaks, but not to condemn Mary for breaking social protocol, but to object to the use of such expensive ointment that could have been sold and the money given to the poor.
Does Mary know something that the disciples do not? No, for Jesus has told his disciples on three separate occasions that he will die in Jerusalem. If anything, Mary is anticipating not only his death, but a hasty burial without the proper preparation. Thus her act of love towards Jesus is done without regard to what the others in the room may think of her or her actions.
Jesus quickly stifles Judas’ objection and in his response to him implies that Mary should keep the rest of the ointment for that very day; a day now looming in the near distance. The preparation to come is more important than their going out to sell what remains of the ointment as Judas suggests.
If his disciples have failed to comprehend his earlier warnings about his impending tragedy, Mary’s actions and Jesus’ words make it clear. They are literally standing in the shadow of the cross. His destiny awaits him.
To follow Jesus implies a proper motivation - to want to be what God created us to be - to worship, love and obey Him above all else. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus could not love Him any more. They have witnessed his power of resurrection; Lazarus is the living proof. They know in their heart of hearts that He is Messiah, the Promised One of God, and they would follow him anywhere.
The disciples have now been with Him for three years. They have witnessed his many miracles and healings, listened to his teachings concerning God and His kingdom. They themselves have been given authority to heal, preach and teach and have been amazed at the people’s response. Yet they seem oblivious to his warnings of his impending death, and at times their faith is intermittent. What motivates them to continue to follow Jesus if not their love for Him?
Judas’ objection to Mary’s use of an expensive ointment that could have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor seems admirable, but St. John is quick to point out that Judas is a thief. They all know it. His motivation is greed. Why would Jesus put him in charge of the money box knowing what is in his heart? That Jesus put him in charge of the alms shows that by every means He attempted to save him. Jesus fulfills Judas’ lust for money.
He allowed Judas to exercise Apostolic authority like the rest. Jesus will wash Judas’ feet along with the others and will allow him to sit at table in the upper room to partake of the Mystical Supper of His Body and Blood, because He loves him no less than the others. He will die for his sins as well as the sins of the world whether Judas realizes it or not.
Sadly greed motivated Judas more than love. Judas’ greed drove him to guilt. It was his guilt that lead to his death by his own hands. I have never thought that Judas was unrepentant, but that he was unable to forgive himself for what he had done in betraying the Lord of Life, and by being unable to forgive himself, he was incapable of knowing and receiving God’s forgiveness.
What motivates us to follow Jesus? To continue the journey? Perhaps if we take time to look closely at each of the characters in today’s gospel we can see which one best reflects our relationship to Christ and in doing so discover the motivation behind our continuing to follow him.
Are we most like Martha always busying ourselves to the point that we are oblivious to what’s going on around us? Or at least pretending that we do not notice. Perhaps we are more like Lazarus, having been the recipient of a miracle, a second chance at life, an undeserved blessing and yet we choose to remain seated on the sidelines not wishing to get involved with the life or the mission of the church, being more than willing to have someone else do what needs to be done.
Then there is Judas who objects and complains who has his own opinion of what should be done and the way it should be done and does not hesitate to say so. Can we see ourselves reflected in him? Do we complain and object to what the Church is doing? What about Mary who simply loves to be in Jesus’ presence and makes herself present to him taking in His every word and being willing to follow him and obey Him as her Lord. Does she not represent what we should all be in terms of our relationship to Christ?
Finally there are the disciples who yet follow him, even with their doubts and wavering faith. Imperfect as they are, he chose them, including Judas, and they followed him not knowing where their “yes” to him would lead or how it would all end. Can we see ourselves as true disciples giving our “yes” to Jesus and following wherever He leads? Putting our whole trust in Him?
The Church is made up of Mary and Martha, Lazarus and Judas, and there is something of each of them in each of us. Imperfect as we are, like Judas, God gives each of us every opportunity to receive His saving grace and to become what we were created to be: lovers of God who manifest our love for Him through worship and obedience, and who are motivated by His Love “to press on,” as St. Paul says, “toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus, the completion of our salvation, the resurrection to eternal life. Amen+