In John's gospel we come into the presence of characters we know. Jesus, Lazarus, Martha, Mary. These people who populate this story we have come to know as friends. Lazarus, who Jesus brought back from the dead, Mary, the one who sat at Jesus' feet to learn all she could, Martha, who prepared the meal, and was a bit resentful of her sister Mary. Both Martha and Mary wept at the grave of their brother, and yet here he is today, all of them preparing for Jesus' inevitable death, rather than mourning Lazarus' death.
It is a bit like showing up week after week to watch your favorite television show. You get to know the characters as if they are friends. You laugh at them and with them, you celebrate their victories and mourn their defeats. You mourn their passing from the television show and your life. Just like the friends that populate my life from Downton Abbey. I root for Bates and Anna and their roller coaster life together. I hope Thomas can figure out his life and find someone to love. O'Brien I like to yell at across the room. Robert and Cora show us so much about long-standing love and commitment, and Edith, poor Edith being stood up at the altar, I can't even think about Sybil, and Tom pining for her. And there is the dowager, with her quick quips and tender heart. But Mary, and Matthew. Ahh, Matthew, you see, I hold out hope that maybe it just isn't so, and Matthew will rise from the dead, just like Lazarus. I return, week after week, to hear the story of this family.
We return week after week and year after year as we hear about these friends and followers of Jesus. And this particular episode is set at Lazarus and Mary and Martha's house as they gather for a meal. There is Martha, preparing what I imagine to be an amazing and abundant feast, she would not settle for less. The smell of freshly baked bread wafting through the house, fresh vegetables from the garden, a slow roasted lamb with garlic and spices, and for desert, a home made sorbet, more than enough for all. And there they gathered, giving thanks for Lazarus, who should have been dead, but is alive, ignoring the reality that Jesus will be dead soon. These are ordinary people, not unlike you and me but for the place and time they lived. Ordinary people, living in and giving thanks for the abundance and new life that has been bestowed upon them. All of which is gift, none of it deserved, or earned. God's grace poured out.
"Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus' feet, and wiped them with her hair." Abundant, opulent, luxurious, overflowing. This is grace, freely given, without price. Flowing out, flowing forth, flowing through. Filling the wounds, the cracks, the fissures with healing balm. This story, populated by our friends Jesus, Lazarus, Martha, and Mary, is also about you, and me. With the costly perfume, Mary anoints Jesus for death, with love and grace God anoints us for life.
God's love, like the costly perfume made of pure nard, seeps into the fissures of our hearts, flows into the fragments of our loves, permeates the brokenness of lives. God's love, like the costly perfume made of pure nard, transforms the pieces of our lives into an integrated whole and creates us anew. An amazing gift, God's grace, how do you receive it? How are you transformed by it?
God's love, like the love of the cross, wins. God's love, like the love of the cross, returns violence not with revenge, but with forgiveness. God's love, like the love of the cross, flows in and through and among us. God's love, like the love of the cross, does not rescue us from pain, and sadness, and suffering, but gives us Jesus, who walks with us through the pain, and to the joy. God, in the flesh, loves us. Inhale the fragrance of the nard, it is all for you.
But it seems so extravagant, it seems so opulent, it seems so luxurious. Just think of all the people that money that was spent on it could help. Just think of all the food that money could buy. Just think of all the good that money could do. Most of us spend much of our lives believing that we don't deserve God's love and grace anyway. But it's never about what we deserve or don't deserve. There are many people more deserving or less deserving than we perceive ourselves to be. Thank God that's not how God's grace works. It's what's so amazing about God's grace, God's love, it's not about us at all. It is about God. That's why we have so much trouble with accepting God's unconditional love.
That's also why we are not in the business of judgement. It's not up to us to determine who gets to sit at the banquet table, it's not up to us to determine who sits at Jesus' right hand and who gets the left. It's just not up to us. Our work is to put ourselves in a place to be present to God's love and grace and forgiveness and healing. Our work is to be receptive to the transformation that God yearns to affect in us. Our work is to respond to the Love that wins with mercy, and compassion, and forgiveness.
And it's never about how much money is in the bank. Hunger is not about the money. "You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me." Hunger is about the holes in our hearts that cannot see the needs of others. Hunger is about the holes in our heads that make us not understand it's not about how hard we work or how lazy someone else may be. Hunger is about our own brokenness that doesn't allow us to look into the eyes of those who are different from us and know we are just the same. And hunger is about our sisters and brothers who do not have enough to eat, whose homes are sub-standard, who go to the mission to find a place to sleep. The only thing worse than not caring for the poor is pretending to. We don't care for one another because we have something they don't, we care for one another because Love wins.
Breathe the fragrance of God's love, let it wash over you, let it fill your brokenness. It will transform you, it will heal you, it will bring you new life.
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