Friending the Messiah
The Rev. Jennifer L. Adams – March 17, 2013 – Lent 5C : John 12: 1-8
Out of all of the families in the Bible, it’s the one that we heard about in today’s gospel that fascinates me the most. And there some truly fascinating families in the Bible, let me tell you, so to gain the rank of ‘most fascinating’ is actually saying a lot! This is Lazarus and Mary and Martha all of whom played key roles in the gospels and were very close friends of Jesus. Mary and Martha were present in the gospel of Luke. And in John’s gospel, which we heard from today, we get all three of the siblings, and they were referred to in John as “Jesus’ friends.”
Note that they weren’t called “disciples” although to the extent that these people had obviously listened to Jesus’ teaching, followed him and learned from him, they were certainly disciples in the basic sense of that word. But these three weren’t “just followers” – we’re actually given the impression that these were Jesus’ closest people, practically family. He visited them somewhat regularly, stayed in touch with them while he traveled to other towns – they sent him notice when Lazarus was near death – and Jesus even “wept” with Mary and Martha in their shared grief over Lazarus’ death. So these were the people who really walked with Jesus, or maybe better put is that Jesus walked with them – as friends. And what fascinates me, and is most relevant to us is how they did it, how these three walked their walk.
But first a few snapshots from their family album in a gospel mash-up of sorts.
There was that time in the gospel of Luke when Jesus visited Martha and Mary. At one point during that visit, Mary was sitting, listening to Jesus and taking in his teaching and then Martha (in typical sibling fashion) came out from the kitchen to complain that Mary wasn’t helping her fix supper. Jesus replied that what Mary was doing was important too and he told Martha that her doing could actually be a distraction if she wasn’t careful. Jesus’ message to his friends that day was to remind Martha that she could stop every now and then to listen and to learn and very simply, be present. And in that message he allowed Mary to value the listening she did, a listening and learning that society at that time didn’t generally afford to women.
Then there was the time in John’s gospel just before the story we heard today when Jesus got word when he was out on the road that his friend Lazarus was ill. And after hearing of his friend’s illness, Jesus changed course, and headed to Bethany where his friends lived. But before he arrived, Lazarus died and when they got that news Jesus indicated to his disciples that that was OK, the story wasn’t over yet – and so they kept walking. And as Jesus was approaching the town, Martha saw him and ran out to meet him and by the end of their conversation she had proclaimed him the Messiah. Mary came out shortly thereafter and they all wept, the only time it’s reported that Jesus actually cried in a shared sort of deep grief. Then Jesus went with them to Lazarus grave and even though Lazarus had been dead for four days, Jesus told the people to roll away the stone, and he shouted to Lazarus to come out. To the astonishment of everyone present (everyone but Jesus – and I think Mary and Martha were on to it too), Lazarus did come out and they unbound him. Lazarus, previously completely dead, was alive and free again. And that story of the raising of Lazarus became the turning point in John because after that moment, the religious authorities sought to bring Jesus to trial, and ultimately to his own death.
Which makes today’s story a last supper of sorts because Jesus and his friends knew that he was soon to be arrested. John described the scene this way, “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 [of course] 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. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.”
Judas then complained that Mary had “wasted the perfume” and Jesus responded that the whole action was Mary’s loving acknowledgement that he was to die. Her pouring of the perfume was also more than that; anointing Jesus was symbolically (as Martha had done in the story before,) proclaiming Jesus to be the Messiah. And that meaning would have been lost on no one who saw it happen. Shortly after this visit, Jesus was arrested. (Come back next week to hear more about all of that.)
So this family had many amazing stories to tell and each member had a particular way in which they friended Jesus. And how they did that friending was remarkably consistent in all of these stories – even though they crossed over gospels. Martha was “The Do-er,” preparing, cooking, greeting, serving, proclaiming. Lazarus for his part was “The Resurrected,” the one who was willing to leave the tomb, get unbound, and who was from that day of new life on was a celebrity of sorts. He would for the rest of his new life be known as “that guy whom Jesus raised from the dead.” And the gospel indicates that Lazarus was in constant risk because of the power that his life represented. And then there was Mary who was the “Gentle Prophet” whose role was to listen, to learn, to weep, and eventually to pour out in abundant, fragrant fashion a prophetic proclamation of who Jesus was for the world.
And so now you know why they fascinate me. They were the friends, and they friended in beautiful and important ways. And so they’re not only a fascination, they also represent the kind of people I want us to be. We talk a lot around here in terms of “church family” and while there are pros and some cons to using that language to describe us, I think that we should hold up this family as one of the models for us as Church. We need to be doers like Martha. We need to prepare, to feed, and to serve. Like Martha, we need to learn better when to be still and also be willing to run out to the road when the Christ is approaching us in order to greet and welcome and embrace. And we need to be those people “whom Jesus raised from the dead;” like Lazarus, we need to risk our own getting unbound and stepping away from the tomb and returning to life speaking in our very presence the power of resurrection! And finally we need to embrace the kinds of learning and the types of tears that lead us, like Mary to prophetic, abundant proclamations that the Kingdom of God has come near.
So, you Marthas, Lazaruses, and Marys of Grace – you the family that is Grace Church – the Christ is here at our table today. You already baked the bread – so nobody run to the kitchen. The wine is here, so settle in. Tell your stories. Unbind. Embrace the new life being given you and let God bless it all. And then in abundant thanks may we anoint with the gifts given us, the Body given for the world God so loved. Amen.