As people of faith, we are called to crack ourselves open, pouring out the richness of what is within to more fully worship God.
April 3, 2022
Image of God
John 12: 1-8
Pastor Heather McColl
John 12: 1-8
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. 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.”
Image of God John 12: 1-8
This story is known as the woman who anoints Jesus…Well, known that way in three of the four Gospels. In John’s Gospel, we get a name for this woman who anoints Jesus. And she is not just any woman. She is Mary. Not to be confused with Mary Magdalene or Mary, Jesus’ mother. This is Mary who sat at the feet of Jesus and listened to him teach. This is Mary, the sister of Lazarus, the man Jesus raised from the dead. This is Mary, a disciple of Jesus, sharing a gift of extravagant love with her teacher, with her friend, responding in gratitude that someone finally sees her as a Beloved Child of God.
The irony is that John really tells us this story twice…once in Chapter 11 as a way to introduce Mary, saying something like “You know who I’m talking about Mary, you know the one who anointed the Lord’s feet with perfume and dried them with her hair…Well, her brother was ill.” I’m taking artistic license with John’s words but we get the idea. Then we get the actual story of the anointing in Chapter 12. Again like before, we get more detail about Mary than we do about the brother, Lazarus who at this point had just been raised from the dead.
Stop and think about that for a minute. John finds Mary’s act of anointing Jesus more fascinating, more worthy of description, John gives more attention to that one extravagant act of love than Jesus breaking bread with a guy who had just been raised from the dead..
This act of anointing is more than what it seems. Yes, anointing was a part of the faith tradition. We know that anointing was used to honor kings, to prepare priests. It was used for healing and blessing. Yet when we look at this text, that is not what John wants us to see. John wants us to see this anointing of Jesus as an act of preparation. It was as an act of resistance. It was as an act which proclaims wholeness for all of God’s people.
It is not that Mary purchased this perfume for the purposes of anointing Jesus. She already had it. It was already in her possession. She is bringing a gift. She is sharing what she has with Jesus because he transformed her, because she experienced the Kingdom of God through him, because he reminded her of who she was and whose she was..
You see, oftentimes when we read this text, we echo Judas’ words. We say it is a waste. We say that this perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor because after all, that is what we are called to do, to care for the least of these in our midst. Oftentimes when we read this text we fall into the narrative of scarcity and limits, something which does not even begin to describe the Kingdom of God in our midst.
Like the Kingdom of God, Mary’s gift defies our logic. It unnerves us. It makes us uncomfortable. Like the Kingdom of God, Mary’s act of extravagant love turns our world upside down because it doesn’t require a response. Mary didn’t share this expensive perfume with Jesus with strings attached. It was a gift given in relationship. It was a way for her to show her love for her Savior. Her act of anointing was a way for Mary to bring her very being, to bring everything she is and worship the one who transformed her. It was a way for Mary to respond in gratitude and grace to one who recognized her as a Beloved Child of God.
And we miss all of that because as readers, as people of faith, we are too focused on the waste. We are too focused on the negative. We are too focused on what we think is the correct behavior in such a situation.
As people of faith, when we only focus on what we think Mary did wrong, we miss the celebration. We miss that Mary shares this gift with Jesus at a dinner given to celebrate that her brother, Lazarus, was brought back to life, to celebrate that the one who was dead is now alive. Mary’s extravagant gift, Mary’s act of worship, Mary’s act of celebration is an act of resistance…resistance to death, resistance to a zero sum narrative. It is Mary’s way of resisting the world which tells her, which tells us that there is not enough.
As people of faith, too often in our lives, in our communities of faith, in our way of being what we think we are supposed to be, too often in all things we call faith, we only focus on what the act of service, what the act of discipleship, what the act of being in relationship will cost us in resources, in time, in energy and we miss…we miss what it truly means to be disciples of Christ, which is to see others as created in the image of God, to share the abundance of God, to break down the narrative of scarcity and invite the Kingdom of God to transform us into people who know, into people who have experience, into people who celebrate joyously the fact that God is still at work in this world, bringing about healing and wholeness
As people of faith, because we only see the negative, because we only listen to the voices which tell us to give up, to the voices which tell us that death is more powerful than possibilities of new life in our midst, because we ignore the signs of God’s abundant love in our lives, we miss the true nature of our call which is “being called to crack ourselves open, pouring out the richness of what is within to more fully worship God. We cannot hide pieces of ourselves or grasp onto expectations that distract from what God created and creates within us. We are free to bring our whole selves as a living testimony to who God has made and makes us to be, both what we label as good and that which we hide from the world.
In other words, now is the time to proclaim to this world of zero sum narratives that our God is not a God of scarcity. Our God is a God of abundance. Our God is a God who fills us with grace, grace unearn and oftentimes undeserved. Our God is a God who created us and claims us as Beloved Children of God. Our God is a God who calls us to proclaim healing and wholeness for all of God’s people.
In other words, now is the time to celebrate the good news that our God is a God who doesn’t count the cost, who doesn’t need our good behavior, who does need us to be who others think we should be. Our God is a God who needs us to be people who constantly proclaim that the one who was once thought dead is now alive. Thanks be to God.
See also: Theology Tuesday for Sunday, April 3, 2022 – Image of God John 12: 1-8.