(This is a monologue based on John 12:1-8 as well as earlier portions of John, with a hat-tip to Isaiah 43:16-21. If you’re interested in using it, please e-mail me and I’ll give you my real "credits." The image is in the public domain; I found it at Wikipedia.)
It was warm that night—the last night we saw Jesus. Our house was full of people. Jesus came with his friends and his followers, and of course people in our town wanted to see him, too. I prepared a meal for everyone. It hadn’t been long since he brought my brother—it’s strange to say it out loud, even though it’s true—it hadn’t been long since he brought my brother back from the dead. Lazarus had been in the tomb for four long days. And I was getting angry. Why hadn’t Jesus come to us? Didn’t he want to help his friend? We thought of ourselves as his brother and sisters. Our home was a safe gathering place for his followers. We loved him and learned from him and wanted to live his way.
Days went by and still he didn’t come, but then we heard he was on the way. There were many people grieving at our home. Mary stayed with them, but I ran out to meet Jesus. I told him, Lord, I believe my brother would still be alive if you had been here, but even now I believe God will give you whatever you ask for. I was waiting for him to say he would help my brother, his dear friend. But he answered me in a different way, with words that stopped my racing mind: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" Believe it? Of course I believed it. I answered him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” It’s funny, I had never said it so plainly to anyone. And yet there it was.
I hurried to get Mary. She was sick with weeping. Some people thought I must not care as much because I didn’t cry in front of them. My crying had to wait. It was my role to hold things together for everyone else. Mary went to him on the road, and the friends who were with us followed her, thinking she was going to Lazarus’ tomb. She spoke to Jesus as I had, saying she knew if he had been with us Lazarus would not have died, but she said it all in her own way, softly and slowly and with many tears. And Jesus went with us to the tomb, and he wept, too, and I could hear the whispers, “if he can make the blind to see, why did he not help this man he loved so much?”
That’s when the shock came. He told us to roll away the stone that closed the tomb. Four days my brother had been in the tomb. “Lord,” I said, “the body will stink!” And there were people who almost laughed, for I was so blunt with him. And then he looked at me, his eyes not letting go of mine, and he said, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" Then he prayed and called my brother’s name, and Lazarus came out of the tomb, his hands and feet still wrapped in the grave cloths.
I don’t know if I would believe it if I hadn’t been there to see it. I’m a practical person. It’s not that I don’t believe in things I can’t see, but I would rather see them. It’s not that I don’t understand things that don’t make common sense. Why, would it be common sense to think that God had come into the world to eat dinner in my own house? But I believed, I knew, he was the One. I knew he had the power to heal the sick, but to overcome death?
Soon we would learn more about his power over death.
When he came back to Bethany in the week before Passover, none of us knew how short the time would be. Truly, I didn’t understand that he would be gone from us, at least in body. I thought we had a tough fight ahead! And I was ready to work for him in any way I could!
I knew my place in the community. Jesus told us to care for one another, to look after those who were in unfortunate circumstances: to feed and clothe them, to give them shelter, to care for the sick, to visit those in prison. I knew that was my work.
It troubles me now that I thought I understood what Judas was getting at when he criticized Mary at dinner that last night. Part of me wanted to say, “You speak well, brother! She is getting a little too proud of being close to Jesus. What was she thinking when she spent so much money on that flask of perfumed ointment?! Even for our own brother we didn’t do anything that lavish, because there are always hungry people coming to our door, and we put their hunger first. Jesus isn’t the sort of person who cares about showing off.” He won’t like it, I thought, it will be too much fuss.
I look back into my memory and I can see her. There she is, giving him this fantastic gift, loving him and honoring him—and me? I’m just standing in the doorway, not understanding. We do need to care for the poor, for the sick, for the old, for the lonely—but we also need to be present in each moment and praise God, to be present in each moment and grieve, to touch each other and be touched in spirit and in heart. For that we sometimes need to just sit on the floor and really look at each other.
I’ve made a home for so many people; I thought I was making one for him. I thought I knew what mattered.
But I couldn’t see what Mary could.
He was right. The poor are still with us: the poor in body and the poor in spirit. They are still hungry to be fed. Some of us know how to feed their stomachs, but when it is the spirit that is discouraged, I always take the time now to just be there with the sad or the frightened person.
I look back into my memory and I see them there together: Jesus, Mary and Lazarus. I loved them all so much. All the others gathered around, most of us never imagining how soon our fellowship would be fractured by betrayal and death. Judas knew, of course, what he was planning to do, but not how it would end. He ran to his fate as if he had no other choice. Jesus knew more; he would go to face it bravely, the humiliation, the torture—that’s what people told us later. But somehow Mary knew what mattered. She knew just what ministry was required. She served with humility and compassion, lowering herself to the floor, at his feet like a servant, pouring out herself and her perfume in a display so lavish, so generous, so wrong to my eyes then, so right to my heart now. I thought I knew everything; now I know so much more. I see them, all there together, and where am I? I’m just standing in the doorway.
And so I make a new picture in my mind’s eye, the picture I want to see and would have him see when he remembers that day. In my mind’s eye, we are all dancing. The room is filled with the comforting aroma of freshly baked bread and the warm scent of too many bodies in a room too small, and over and through it all wafts the glorious fragrance of the perfume from Mary’s jar, broken and poured out, as Jesus soon would be.
It’s time to stop judging myself for the mistake I made that day and to live out my calling to be his disciple, guided not just by the understanding of my head that he is Christ, or the work of my hands in caring for the poor, but by the leaning of my heart into the great love he was and is and is to be. God is doing a new thing, in me, and in all of us.