Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 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." -John 12:1-8
About The Meditation Prompts
With the raising of Lazarus from death, the religious authorities find reason to begin the final plot against Jesus. Mary understands that Jesus is to die, and anoints him with costly nard, as if for burial. She wipes his feet with her hair.
Jesus understands her extravagant gesture. It is if a wordless conversation of breathtaking intimacy takes place between them. Mary says, “I know.” And Jesus acknowledges, “I know that you know.” Mary, relieved, sighs, “Now I know that you know that I know.”
The Fifth Sunday in Lent offers hints of the new life about to unfold (Meditation One) and invites intimate participation (Meditation Two and Three). Let this new life arise in me!
I pray for this new life to arise in you and in me, -Suzanne
Meditation One (Introit) Now It Springs Forth His disciples said to him, "When will the rest for the dead take place, and when will the new world come?" He said to them, "What you are looking forward to has come, but you don't know it." His disciples said to him, "Twenty-four prophets have spoken in Israel, and they all spoke of you." He said to them, "You have disregarded the living one who is in your presence, and have spoken of the dead." -Gospel of Thomas 51-52 Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? -Isaiah 43:18-19 Those who sowed with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed, will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves. Psalm 126:6-7
Meditation Two (Insight) O Jesus, Rise In Me I have no wit, no words, no tears; My heart within me like a stone Is numbed too much for hopes or fears; Look right, look left, I dwell alone; I lift mine eyes, but dimmed with grief No everlasting hills I see; My life is in the falling leaf: O Jesus, quicken me.
My life is like a faded leaf, My harvest dwindles to a husk; Truly my life is void and brief And tedious in the barren dusk; My life is like a frozen thing, No bud nor greenness can I see: Yet rise it shall - the sap of Spring;
O Jesus, rise in me.
-Christina Rossetti 1830-1894
Meditation Three (Integration) Extravagantly Give Yourself
Dive deeply into the miracle of life and let the tips of your wings be burnt by the flame, let your feet be lacerated by the thorns, let your heart be stirred by human emotion, and let your soul be lifted beyond the earth.
-Vilayat Inayat Khan 1916-2004 Call of the Dervish
detail, Bouts, House of Simon, 1440's
The Last Word
Where there is no extravagance there is no love, and where there is no love there is no understanding.
-Oscar Wilde 1854-1900
Quentin Massys, Detail, Mary Magdalene
Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus' feet, and wiped them with her hair. -John 12:3a
Mary of Bethany and Jesus share an intimacy analogous to the Soul and the Beloved in prayer – wordless dialogue surrounded by a depth of mutual silence that words might diminish.
When Jesus arrives after Lazarus dies, Martha meets him on the road. They engage in a profound conversation only the two of them can bring forth from the depth of their friendship. (John 11:20-27) But when Martha's sister Mary meets Jesus on the same road, he can only weep.
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 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. -John 12:1-3
Judas complains that the nard is too extravagant. The perfume could have been sold and given to the poor. John, the Gospel writer, notes that Judas says 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.” (vs.6) Perhaps Judas' true objection was to the sensuality of Mary's gesture, her hair, dripping with scented oil, bathing Jesus' feet. Jesus tells Judas to leave Mary alone.
Jesus then announces publicly that Mary's extravagant gesture has a message. “She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.” (vs. 7). Did the others give any sign that they heard him? Had Peter already learned his lesson not to object to references to Jesus' death? (Mt 16:22-23) Embarrassed, did they awkwardly ignore him? Were they tired by now of his Passion predictions?
Mary heard him.
A wordless dialogue takes place. Like Elijah and Moses on the Mount of Transfiguration, Mary and Jesus discuss Jesus' Exodus - the now imminent Passion.
Mary: I know. Jesus: I know that you know. Mary: Now I know that you know that I know.
Love's deep silence surrounds their mutual understanding - a sphere unshattered by words. Only love and only prayer can enter the soul's darkness with such intimacy.
The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
Miscellany Together at table are Lazarus and Jesus: one has just returned from the tomb and the other will soon be placed in his tomb. The pouring and flow of the perfume suggests the gift of new life which passes from one to the other: from Jesus to Lazarus. Again, here on the sixth day, we are beyond the laws of “before and after,” of temporal causality, just as we are beyond the counsels of economic prudence. The gifts of new life which this perfume signifies, however, is not the same mortal life; the quality of this substance speaks of something further: the eternal life which is the life of God and of the new creation. (p. 213) ...
There is in all visible things an invisible fecundity, a dimmed light, a meek namelessness, a hidden wholeness this mysterious Unity and Integrity is Wisdom, the Mother of all, Natura naturans. There is in all things an inexhaustible sweetness and purity, a silence that is a fount of action and joy. It rises up in wordless gentleness and flows out to me from the unseen roots of all created being, welcoming me tenderly, saluting me with indescribable humility. This is at once my own being, my own nature, and the Gift of my Creator's Thought and Art within me, speaking as Hagia Sophia, speaking as my sister, Wisdom.
-Bruno Barnhart The Good Wine: Reading John from the Center pp.215-16
Meal at Bethany, Unknown Illustrator of Petrus Comestor's Bible Historiale, 1372