Anointing The Messiah—Mary and Jesus
A Lenten Monologue based on John 12:1-11
You know, people have always thought I’m a little odd, even my family. Oh, Martha and Lazarus love me, but I can’t count the number of times they’ve said to me, “Mary, get your head out of the clouds, you’ve got to be practical about things.” Martha, in particular, focuses on her daily tasks: making sure all the chores are done, that everything is just so. She doesn’t spend time wondering about much beyond our home, our little village of Bethany, and our friends.
I work hard, too, but work isn’t all I think about. I pray, and read the Scriptures, and I also pay attention to the stories of the world outside our village. I love Martha, but her world was always a little bit … small. That is, until we met Jesus.
Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God come into the world. Nobody knew that when he first came to our village, not me, not Martha, and not Lazarus. We thought he was just a travelling teacher—there are so many of them around these days. Everyone has their own idea of what it means to follow God’s commands, and sometimes I think we spend more time arguing about the details than we do actually listening to God’s word and following it.
Most of our village elders are Pharisees. They do many good things: they teach the Scriptures to our children, they help us to keep God’s commands even when they come into conflict with Rome. The Pharisees help us keep true to our faith and our traditions, but they are so rigid sometimes!
Then there are the chief priests, secure in the Temple with all their riches. They only accept the five books of Moses, and they don’t believe in the Resurrection. But there is so much suffering in this life—even good people suffer. How can God be just if the only result of goodness is suffering?
Then there are the Zealots, who believe God is calling them to raise an army and throw out the Romans, as if Israel’s politics and national leadership were God’s only concern. Others, like John the Baptist, turn their back on society and go out into the wilderness.
And all of these different groups say that their way is the only way to follow God, and that everyone else is mistaken and God will punish them for it. Each group believes God will send his Messiah, his anointed one, to prove them right and make society into what their group believes it should be.
Yes, there are a lot of travelling teachers these days, each spreading a slightly different message. I’ve listened to so many. I always hoped to find one with some deeper message than just “I’m right, and the others are wrong,” something that would truly bring hope to my people. And I was always disappointed—until Jesus came.
Jesus … I don’t know how to describe him. He looked ordinary, but there was something about him. And he said a lot of things that were similar to what other teachers said, but at the same time, it was so different. He talked about the Kingdom of God, not just as a way to throw the Romans out, or restore the kingdom of our ancestor David, but as a way of life.
He talked about living life with joy, putting trust in God at the center of everything. He said that God is here, now, with us, all around us, even when we can’t see him. He talked about all the things we do and have and think that get in the way of our relationships with God and one another: our money and possessions, our social class, our prejudices, our fears. There’s a better way, he said, a way that brings life for all, instead of suffering and death. Instead of focusing on our fears and using our rules to try and control the world, we should let our love for God and for one another guide everything we do.
It was so wonderful to sit at his feet and learn—and that was another difference between him and all the other teachers. They only let men learn from them, and only men who are upstanding pillars of the community, because they are afraid to tarnish their reputations if people who aren’t good enough come to them. But Jesus welcomes everyone: man and woman, adult and child, Jew and Gentile, rich and poor, sinner and saint, all are welcome. So for the first time in my life, I could learn directly, instead of eavesdropping and pestering my brother Lazarus to share what the teachers say. It made me feel whole, like God truly loved me, for the first time in my life.
Jesus didn’t stay long, of course, but he kept coming back. He always keeps traveling to spread his message—God’s message—as far and wide as he can. And then my brother Lazarus got sick.
I was scared. There was nothing we could do. It came so suddenly and he just got worse and worse. We sent for Jesus, because he’s healed people before. But even though he was only a day’s walk away, he didn’t come until after Lazarus was dead.
I was furious. If he was so close, why hadn’t he come sooner? Why had he let Lazarus get sick in the first place? Even if Jesus couldn’t heal Lazarus for some reason, why hadn’t he been there to mourn with us, like the rest of our family and friends? I couldn’t stand to see him. When we heard he was coming, Martha went out to greet him, but I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. I stayed at home and cried.
I didn’t want to see him, but Martha came and got me, and there was something in her face: something had happened. I’d always thought she was too caught up in the mundane details of daily life to pay much attention to what Jesus taught, but she knew something then, that I didn’t. I got up and went with her to the tomb. Jesus ordered them to open it, and called for Lazarus to come out, and he did! Our brother was alive! It was a sign of God’s power and a wonder greater than I could have imagined. Martha and I were so happy to have our beloved brother back with us.
I had prided myself on my wisdom and learning and faith in God, but I realized that Martha had trusted Jesus more than I did. Just like the priests and the Pharisees, I had been trying to fit Jesus’ teachings into what I already knew, while Martha had seen that Jesus was so much more than that. I had believed that resurrection was possible, or I thought I had, but I’d never dreamed I would see it become reality. It opened my eyes to just how great God’s power is. I don’t understand it. I don’t think anyone could understand it, or predict it. But it’s true and I rejoice because of it.
Things are tense, now. A lot of powerful people don’t like Jesus, because he challenges their control. When you are so important, it’s not easy to accept that God is greater than you are. The priests and the Pharisees didn’t like Jesus before, but after he raised Lazarus from the dead, they hate him. The priests are trying to claim that Lazarus wasn’t really dead, and there are all kinds of rumors about power struggles in Jerusalem.
Things are always tense as Passover approaches. Our Roman overlords don’t like a religious festival that celebrates God saving us from slavery. But this year, things are worse. I’m afraid of what will happen next.
But I’ve learned from Lazarus’ resurrection. I know that Jesus is the Messiah, and I know that he is more powerful than death itself. He is the Resurrection, and the life. What can the leaders of the Temple and the Romans do to him? Jesus doesn’t look at things the way we do. He’s not afraid of death, it’s almost like he’s waiting for something more important. And Jesus’ plans aren’t like our plans, and even when I don’t understand them, they work out somehow.
Jesus came back last night, a week before Passover. I was glad to see him, safe for at least one night. I’ve heard so many rumors, I’m afraid. But my love for Jesus is stronger than my fear.
I don’t know what will happen, but I know that Jesus is the LORD, the Messiah. I wanted to put that knowledge into action. Messiah means ‘anointed one.’ You see, back in the days of old, kings and priests and prophets were anointed with oil to symbolize God’s choice to make them his own. Nowadays, we only anoint those who die, but it used to be a sign of life, a sign of God’s favor. And I know God favors Jesus. So I went out and bought oil, a perfume made of pure nard, a whole pound of it—it was very expensive, but it was worth it. I wanted people to see Jesus like I did, I wanted them to know that he was the Messiah, the chosen one of God.
I brought the perfume in and knelt at Jesus’ feet. I rubbed the oil on him and wiped the excess away with my hair. I think Martha might have been embarrassed, it was so extravagant and impractical and unusual. Nobody really knew what to say. Judas, he’s one of Jesus’ followers, mumbled something about how expensive it was and how we should give it to the poor. For a second, I thought Jesus would agree with him—after all, Jesus always wants us to help one another, particularly those who can’t help themselves. But Jesus didn’t.
Jesus said something very strange: “She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial,” he said. “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
I don’t know what’s going to happen. I hope Jesus doesn’t die, or that the one who raised my brother from the dead can raise himself as well. I hope that people come to their senses, and follow Jesus’ way of truth and love, instead of the way of hate and power-struggles. But I know that whatever happens, God is here, with us. I trust in him.