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.”
When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.
This is a highly-concentrated and emotionally-packed drama in two parts.
Part 1: Jesus is at ease with his dear friend Lazarus in his home in Bethany. We share the conviviality of the meal; the after-dinner relaxation; the impact and sweet enjoyment of Mary’s expensive and all-pervading perfume; the intimacy of Mary’s anointing of Jesus’ feet. Friction breaks out. Shock follows – Judas is a hypocrite and a thief! We feel relief as Jesus rebukes Judas. But tension breaks out again: puzzlement and anxiety preside as the Interval curtain comes down. (His words by implication focus on the importance of obeying our instincts and following impulses to show appreciation of our special friends. Mary has sensed what is to happen to Jesus and has performed an act of deep spiritual significance.)
Part 2: Anticipation is strong in Bethany’s streets; people want to glimpse Jesus, and also Lazarus, the man raised from death. A crowd is gathering. Momentum builds. Now a sinister element is introduced. Jesus had raised Lazarus out of love for him. Now there is a piercing irony. Lazarus is a draw for the public, proof and symbol of the power of Jesus. This has undermined respect for the chief priests. Such a threat to their authority must be removed. They have long planned to kill Jesus. Now Lazarus must also be got rid of………What will happen?
Help us, Lord, to strive to identify and hold onto values based on the example and teaching of Jesus. May we treat our friends kindly, trying to be sensitive to their needs and to develop a sense of priorities in all our dealings. Let us grow in understanding, so that we recognise opportunities for strengthening all our relationships and do not become people who sadly often say, ‘If only…..’. Amen.
Margaret Edwards is an Elder in Wilbraham St Ninian’s URC in Chorlton South Manchester
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