Thursday, 10 March 2016

"The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume"

Lent 5 - Year C
John 12:1-8

“The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume”

How bright is the lamp? 
How powerful is your space heater? 
How potent is the perfume? 

How able are any of these to fill a room with light or heat or fragrance?  Somebody out there knows the maths and can hold forth on Lumens or British Thermal Units to explain it.  I certainly can’t.

How much is too much?  Rooms can be overheated.  Lights can be too bright.  If you’ve ever sat in a movie theatre, with a group of ladies of a certain generation on their night out together behind you, you know that perfume can be too strong.

Is this what Judas is griping about - that Mary has cracked open a one-pint alabaster jar of expensive imported perfume?  It’s too much, he says, not only wrong but unnecessary!  We might have spent money differently and in a less extravagant fashion.  This comment earns Judas a direct rebuke from Jesus in the story and a critical side note from John the Evangelist which rubbishes his character and his motives.  What John knows (and what you know) is what Jesus reveals just prior to the last supper:  Judas is on the wrong side of the fence – as even principled critics sometimes are.  He feigns an attitude of care but fears the loss of his control.

Who is in control?  These are little people, remember.  They are not the big beasts of their generation.  Moreover, they stand at the beginning of a chapter in Jesus’ earthly life where nobody but God is in control.  The anointing at Bethany is the overture to the Passion Narrative in John’s Gospel as well as Mark’s and Matthew's Gospels.  It is the starting gun.  From this point on, everybody from Judas to Peter, to Pontius Pilate and the High Priest plays the role that has been chosen for him and the son of God goes to the cross as it has been written. 

She's a bright light - this Mary of Bethany - once again she correctly discerns what the right attitude in such circumstances might be – the “one thing [which] is needful” in this prelude to Christ’s Passion.   It alone makes sense at the beginning of a week which will see their world turned upside down.   It takes the form of an extravagant and overt act of adoration, of love and of worship. Wordlessly she draws attention to the One in their midst who is giving himself for the life of the world

It is a gift beyond argument, dispute and objection. 
It is the small planet settling into orbit around the grander sphere.
It is the servant bringing the fruits of the harvest to the master. 

She has understood. 
And have you? 

Worship is not a periodic obligation, sparing and conservative (perhaps even self-serving) like one of Judas' disbursements.   It is the pouring out of our substance at Jesus’ feet as a response to what he has accomplished for us.  Even the worship of little people like ourselves has its own power over powerlessness.  It fills the room.