As we have done in previous Lent and Advent seasons, we are again blogging our way through the Lenten Lectionary Texts. In this season, our prayer is that we will bless and inspire you in your walk between the Now and Not-Yet of the Kingdom. We pray that our meditations will be life-giving to you in your journey.
In this week’s #Lent14 posts, we are departing from the Lectionary and are turning instead to events during the life of Jesus that involved Dinner Parties. As we travel in Central Asia, one of the things that we are continually struck by is the amount of life that happens around the dinner table. In fact, in one Central Asian nation, we were told, “If I invite you for tea, we’re friends. Yet, when I invite you for food, we become family.” This week we are joined by four dear friends and pastors to our ministry who have agreed to offer a meditation for us.
Our guest blogger today is our dear friend, Charla Gwartney. Rev. Gwartney is currently serving as Senior Pastor at Memorial Drive United Methodist Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Her family is a great blessing to her…husband, Kurt and daughter, Elizabeth.
A Reading from the Gospel of John
There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
This is the Word of the Lord.
Anything can happen at the table. Have you noticed that? When people want to really visit, they go to a coffee shop to sit at a table together. When people know the conversation will be difficult, they go to dinner hoping the conversation will be less charged with conflict. When people want to celebrate, they invite people to the table where conversation often leads far into the night and where glasses are raised in toast after toast. I have seen relationships mended around a table. I’ve also seen words flow too freely and feelings get hurt around a table. I’ve seen life-changing announcements made around a table. And, I’ve experienced the everyday ordinary stuff of life become holy around a table. I’m telling you, anything can happen at the table.
What happens around the table in John 12:2-8, however, is absolutely the most extraordinary table event I’ve ever known about, save what happens around the table of the last supper. Lazarus and his two sisters invite Jesus to their home for dinner. In the preceding chapter, we find the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead and learn that Jesus loves this family very much. They were important friends and followers. So, an invitation from this family would have been received with joy. Jesus knew that dinner here would include laughter, love and true fellowship. After all, Lazarus had just been raised from the dead and there would be lots to celebrate.
As the story begins in verse two, all feels normal. Lazarus was around the table with Jesus and Martha was serving. So far, this is exactly what we would expect. The men would enjoy a meal together around the table and the women would be gathered in the kitchen preparing and serving the food. But, where is Mary? She enters in verse three and turns this table scene upside down. The scripture says she took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard. Did you know that nard had to be imported from the Himalayas? Who knows what this family was saving this stuff for, but it had to have been one of their greatest treasures – to be doled out one little bit a at a time. It probably was being saved for their family burials and had been brought out when Lazarus was thought to be dead.
Mary takes it all, every last bit of it, and anoints Jesus’ feet, wiping them with her hair. This is an act of over-the-top extravagance and the scripture tells you that by stating that the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. Oh yes, the women would’ve known about this too, even from another room. For just a moment, take a breath and imagine how shocking this whole scene would be. Mary isn’t supposed to be anywhere near this table. She is supposed to be serving with the other women. And, she sure isn’t supposed to be squandering the family treasure on someone who isn’t even dead yet. I would imagine that every single person around that dinner table is absolutely speechless, their jaws are hanging open to the floor. And then, the aroma hangs in the air so thick they can think of nothing else. Even if they had wanted to lighten the mood – change the subject – there can be none of that. They can still smell the evidence of Mary’s actions!
I’m hunching on this. I have absolutely no evidence to support it. But, I’m hunching Jesus was just as shocked as every other man around that table when Mary walked into the room. I think, though, when Jesus saw her face, he saw a love that must have said even more than the nard. She couldn’t help herself. She risked a public shaming (which she did indeed receive in verse five). She risked her family’s disappointment realizing their treasure was gone. She risked Jesus’ rejection – he didn’t have to respond the way he did in verse seven. But, I’ll say it again, she couldn’t help herself.
This love that can push us to risk everything – that is extraordinary. I wonder, when is the last time you saw that kind of love around a table? I think the table draws out the best in us. I know it drew out the best in Mary. I’m so grateful she threw caution to the wind and showed me what it means to love with abandon. I wonder if Jesus thought about this kind of love when he shared that last meal with his disciples in the next chapter…when he washed their feet? I’m hunching he still remembered the smell of sweet perfume as he washed those dirty feet and reminded them, “So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” I’ll say it again…anything can happen at the table.