Lectionary Reflection: John 12: 1-11 A Study in Character

Martin Luther King Jr. was right.  The content of a person’s character is what really matters

Martha:  Feeding everyone, busy Martha.  Some people are talented that way, with what is sometimes called the gift of hospitality.  They are good at seeing to people’s needs, making people feel comfortable.  “God bless ‘em,” I say.

Martha only got reprimanded that one time when she complained about Mary sitting around and not helping…  (see Luke 10:48-32). Was she suggesting things needed to be her way or the Highway?  No, I don’t think so.  But she was guilty of seeing things from her point of view, only, and not seeing the broader picture—not allowing for the differences among people.  We do this all the time.

“This is what I do.  This is what I feel is important.  Why can’t everyone just be like me?” 

We have to watch that…  This universe is bigger and God’s gifts are more than we can imagine.  At the time it was “Martha, good,” (the reprimand was light), but “Mary good, too.”

Lazaras:  Lounging around.  I was thinking of a conversation…

“So Bob.  Why are you lounging while your wife is running around serving everyone?”

“Come on, Laz.  She’s your sister.  Why don’t you get up and help?  I’ve been sick, you know.”

“Me?  I’ve been dead, you know…  Too bad football hasn’t been invented yet.”

From across the room:  “Football?”

Lazarus and Bob in unison:  “Chill, Peter.”

…Anyway, I suspect there was some such conversation going on.

I am not saying Lazarus was lazy; but he was willing to sit back, relax and enjoy himself.  At times, I don’t believe God has a problem with that (if it doesn’t become a lifestyle).  I pity those who believe we can never sit back and enjoy life.  There are plenty of such people in the church.  When it comes to God’s work, “we must never relax!”  Bull!  This is the day the Lord has made.  Let us rejoice and be glad in it.  Enjoy is OK.

Mary:  I was thinking three things here:

1.         She was determined to do what she felt was right no matter what others thought.  In that earlier incident, Jesus called it “the better part.”   She was unashamed of her love for the Lord.  She “put her hair down,” as the saying goes…

2.         Anointing the feet is an act of humble service (washing feet) & recognition of what was to come (death of Jesus).  While Martha’s gift of hospitality is a good thing, it would not hurt if we were all a little more devoted to the Lord—like Mary.

3.         The house fills with the beautiful, sweet aroma of the perfume… the “smell” of a good act of love…  except, maybe, if Bartholomew is allergic to the perfume.

Hey!  Mary had the privilege of giving directly to the Lord, but that does not diminish what other people give.  People give, sacrificially, the best they have, all the time.  “God bless ‘em” I say. 

I don’t know precisely what it means for you and me to love Jesus in a similar way. What does it mean for us to wet his feet with our tears, to affectionately dry his feet, to anoint his feet for burial?  But as I have said, would that we were all a little more like that.

Judas:  Now we get to the rub (the wrong way), and I was thinking three things here, too:

1.         Judas is a spoilsport, raining on Mary’s parade.  Do you know any similar people who just can’t be happy for others?  Some such people have no capacity to tolerate any sort of emotional outpouring.  And any real, public act of true spirituality and devotion makes them uncomfortable, so they feel obliged to stop it.  It is like the church elder who always sits in the front row with a fire extinguisher in his lap in case the fires of revival should break out…  But, honestly, we don’t have any such people in the church, do we?

Not everyone feels or expresses their devotion in the same way.  Unlike Martha, though, I don’t get the impression that Judas is simply seeing things in a semi-blind sort of way through his own eyes.  I think he is deliberately trying to stop this beautiful act.  He is deliberately trying to spoil it.

2.         Judas is a deflector, like the ultimate Monday Moring Quarterback.  Deflectors always come up with an alternative of what we could have (implied:  should have) done.  They often get away with it because what they suggest is never a bad thing.  “Should have sold it and helped the poor.”  Who is going to argue against helping the poor? 

Jesus could have answered Judas much the same way he once answered Martha:  “Mary has chosen the better part,” but he didn’t.  He explained that this was for his burial—that he was going to die.  The curious thing is the passage does not say how the others reacted to that…

3.         Judas is greedy?  He had more problems than that.  He did not listen (pay attention) to reality.  Way beyond Martha’s little problem, Judas could only see things his way… His way or the highway…  He wanted to be in control.  He wanted everyone to do it his way.  He suggested giving to the poor, but he might just as well have suggested a disaster relief fund, Bibles for overseas missions, new choir robes or new carpet for the fellowship hall—or the equivalent.  It didn’t matter what he said.  The point was to make everyone stop and do what he said.  Of course, we don’t have any people like this in our churches, do we?

The implication here is that Judas is already thinking about betraying Jesus.  It’s like if Jesus and the other are not willing to play by his rules, he is going to take his ball and go home…  And how many times have you seen this attitude in people with money?  Never, I hope.

Jesus:  Of course, Jesus knew Judas’ heart as well as he knew the heart of everyone there.  He said nothing against Martha serving or Lazarus lounging.  He praised Mary after a fashion for her act of devotion.  And he did not get mad at Judas.  He knew God’s will in the matter and spoke openly about what was to come—his death.   In the end, he told Judas, “Go do what you have to do.”  That was all.

And he knew about the plotters as well—the authorities that were looking to kill him.  What could he say?  At that point he was a celebrity and all of the people were going over to him (as we shall see on Palm Sunday).  Of course it “ticked off” the religious authorities.  That was their power, status and prestige he was running away with.  

Now, the interesting part was we are told they intend to kill Lazarus, too…  How does one kill a dead man?  He died once already and Jesus brought him back…  Hmmm…  Better watch that Jesus.  Kill him, and we better put him behind a big stone and put some guards there, too, just in case.  Do you think?


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