Knowing what we do about this week in the story of Jesus, I was happy to see the gospel for today that began this way:
Six days before Passover Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. They gave a dinner for him there, and Martha served, while Lazarus was one of those reclining at table with him…(Jn 12:1-11)
I’m always glad to be reminded of the fact that Jesus had a family that extended to some of his closest friends and that—as in “normal” days in our lives—Jesus had celebratory meals with those people and got a chance once in awhile to “put his feet up” and relax. This scenario was enhanced with Mary’s desire to make Jesus more comfortable by anointing his feet with an expensive oil, adding a lovely fragrance to the house and a restful ambiance to the gathering. It was, I think, a telling “moment” about relationship for Jesus. Unfortunately, the feeling was shattered by the shift caused by Judas, complaining about the cost of the oil. Thus did the lovely moment pass and we are thrown back into the scene that is unfolding as a precursor to what is to come.
I choose today, however, to pause and consider this scene. It’s mostly conjecture, as we don’t have much to go on except Mary’s willingness to give such a generous gift to the Master. But who were the other people, named or not, whom we believe to have been in attendance at this meal. We know, at least, Jesus, Judas, Mary, Martha, Lazarus. Clearly we are familiar with all those people to whom we have already assigned roles: Judas holds the role of money-changer and is what we might call “a skinflint.” (There is clear evidence from the text that he is seen as “a thief.”) Martha is, as usual, in charge of the kitchen and Mary takes care of Jesus, making him as comfortable as possible. There are perhaps other friends as well, since it seems as if they are always together. And then there’s Jesus who speaks on Mary’s behalf with a striking statement after Judas complains about the money spent on the oil. Jesus says, “Leave her alone. Let her keep this for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you but you do not always have me.” (Undoubtedly a foreshadowing of what is to come.)
I suggest creating the scene: the people, their placement in the room, their movements (mostly those of Martha, the always-busy one), the interactions of Mary and Jesus…Whose feelings can you imagine? The frustration of Judas and, perhaps, of Jesus…the compassion and tenderness of Mary…the surprise of everyone at the words of Jesus….
See what happens if you begin with some silence and then recreate the scene. Do you learn anything new about anyone? Can you put yourself in the scene? How does that change things—for you or the others gathered there? There are only days before the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. Can you feel the tension building?