Daily Readings in John – Day Forty
November 27, 2017
John 12:1-8 (NRSV)
12 Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3 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. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5 “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” 6 (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.) 7 Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
One of the hallmarks of the Jesuit spiritual tradition, called Igantian spirituality after their founder Ignatius of Loyola, is imaginative reading of scripture. Let’s practice.
Imagine yourself in the one common room of a very small, old stone house. One wall has windows that open into a little courtyard. Another leads to a private sleeping room. Another has a doorway through which the host, a young woman named Martha, has come in and out with bread, humus, and some olives and vegetables. It’s a simple meal, as the family is just days away from the largest meal of the year at Passover.
Still, the friend of the family, a travelling teacher named Jesus is here, as the guest of honor. The room is crowded, as his apprentices are with him, as is the host family and some other friends. The young man of the family, Lazurus, isn’t eating much. In fact, he can’t stop staring at Jesus; his mouth hangs open a little, even when he’s not talking. Rumor has it he was wrapped in grave clothes and lying in the family tomb not too long ago, before Jesus called him out and he actually got up and walked again. Here he is, a few people to your left.
There’s no table here. Everyone is reclining on a rug, leaning on one elbow as they talk and eat. A few sit up, leaning back against the wall, bellies full.
And now, Mary, sister of the host enters and pours perfume over Jesus’ feet. The smell has filled the room, its sweetness mixing with the aromas of garlic and olives and bread. Mary has no towel, but is using her own hair to rub the fragrance into Jesus’ feet, like an ointment or lotion. Jesus has the trace of a smile on his face; he looks calm, content.
The whole room is quiet, shocked. What is Mary doing? Will someone tell her to back away? It’s almost indecent. You’d do this for your lover, perhaps, or for a corpse you’re preparing for burial. Not for a guest, not for a rabbi.
The silence is interrupted, as Judas complains about the waste of it all. Ironic, as he’s wearing new, clean clothes and people say he’s a thief. But Jesus doesn’t confront him; he barely acknowledges what he’s said.
He just looks around slowly and then turns back toward Mary by his feet and says, “Let her be. This is what love looks like. She’s preparing me for my burial, which is coming soon.”
What do you see and feel? Who do you relate to? What troubles or inspires you? Do Mary or Judas or Jesus remind you of anyone you know, or anything in yourself?
Is there anything you want to say to Jesus now? If so, go ahead.