“Leave her alone”

A homily, based on John 12.1-11 and Isaiah 42.1-9, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on Monday in Holy Week, March 26, 2018

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)

Mary anoints the feet of Jesus (Marie oint les pieds de Jésus), James Tissot (1836-1902)

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)

2 thoughts on ““Leave her alone”

  1. Paul I love this sermon because there are so many lowly deeds of love and justice that need to be performed in this world right now. There are countless “dimly burning wicks” out there and I know we don’t even begin to scratch the surface of reaching all of them. I reach only the ones who are put in my path by others (who arrange for me to speak to caregiver support groups) and it feels great to encourage them to keep going. What I need to do more of is seek out the “dimly burning wicks” in my own community too. I could say there isn’t enough time for me to do so, yet there’s always 5 min to stop and lift someone one. I don’t often venture outside from my office, but if I did the Central Mission is less than 200 yards from where I work. I need to get out more because there’s so much work we need to do.

    Much love!


  2. Yes, Loretta, I wholly agree with you. Some words that came out of my mouth in a spontaneous moment (though I did not transcribe it into the posted text) were: “The ‘bruised reeds’ and ‘dimly burning wicks’ are all around us, all of the time, verily, we, too, oft are numbered among them. Hence, we never have far to look to seek our hurting sisters and brothers and, indeed, we oft see the hurt of need in our mirrors. Let us then ever give ourselves to the small acts of loving service and to be kind to ourselves.”

    Love you


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