Jesus returns to Bethany for a festive dinner party among dearest, exceedingly grateful friends. Earlier, the sisters, Martha and Mary, had summoned Jesus to come to the aid of their sick brother, Lazarus. Devastated at his death, doubtless, they were disappointed with Jesus in his delay. Then they were dumbfounded with joy when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, revealing, as he had said, that he is “the resurrection and the life.”(1)
At some point during dinner, Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume, filling the air with its fragrance. Then, in an act of scandalous impropriety (such is the shamelessness of love!), she unbinds her hair in public and, in lowly, slavish, loving service, wipes his feet.(2)
Judas, professing concern for the poor, judges Mary and her foolish waste. Jesus, sensing, knowing the inescapable end of his status quo challenging, world-order upending proclamation of the kingdom of God, recognizes Mary’s anointing as a prophetic witness of his coming death. Declaring, “Leave her alone”, Jesus honors Mary and her loving lowliness as reflective of his self-sacrificial own.
Jesus calls us all into his service. And our service in his name rarely involves the massive proportion of public deeds affecting myriad folk, but rather mostly is measured in daily, small, lowly deeds of love and justice, wasteful, in the world’s judgment, of our time and energy…
For I liken our service in Jesus’ name unto the language of Isaiah. We, most often, do not, need not “cry or lift our voices.” Rather, when we behold the “bruised reed” or the “dimly burning wick” of a sister or brother of our human family in need, we are called to open our caring hearts and to extend our comforting hands, seeking not to break the soul or quench the spirit of our sister or brother. In this, we embody the love that “brings forth justice.”
(1) See John 11.1-44
(2) In this, I cannot help but note that Mary dares to do more, much more than the great John the baptizer, who, years before, appearing on the scene, also in Bethany, heralding the coming of the Messiah, declared himself unworthy to untie the thong of Jesus’ sandals (See John 1.26-28).
Illustration: Mary anoints Jesus’ feet, James Tissot (1836-1902)