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Lectionary Living

Trouble Ahead

Isaiah 43:16-21  •  Psalm 126  •  Philippians 3:4b-14  •  John 12:1-8


The first time we met Mary and Martha (Luke 10), it was already a familiar story. Martha is cooking, Mary is listening to Jesus' stories, and next, Martha fusses at Mary. Probably most of us have seen or been a part of similar domestic scenes. Although there is tension between the sisters, the context is more or less a happy one, with a relaxed air of friends gathered in a home, and a great storyteller in the room.


Not so with today's story. This time, serious tension is in the air. In the verses right before, Jewish leadership has been talking about Jesus' popularity with the people. Misconstruing his motivation as a desire to lead a rebellion against the government, they discussed the need for him to die to avoid any dangerous complications with the Roman authorities. Separately, Jesus himself has been talking about his death as coming soon. Everyone knows that in Jerusalem, trouble is ahead.


And everyone deals with the troubling thoughts in different ways. Martha is back in the kitchen again, cooking and serving food. Anxious Judas starts counting costs, figuring out how to feed the poor, and possibly himself, once Jesus is gone. And Mary takes a pound of nard, a perfumed oil, possibly bought to use after Jesus' impending death, and begins to use her hair to wash his feet with it, in a scene that seems odd to us now and apparently was quite inappropriate then.


These three examples tell us much about human beings under pressure. Martha distances physically, losing herself in her work in the kitchen. Judas distances emotionally, adding numbers and criticizing others. Mary, overcome with feeling, acts without much thought. No one in the room, apparently, is acting thoughtfully about the principle that had led them to this place: loyalty to Jesus. If anyone had been able to think about the principle, perhaps the anxiety might have been addressed. Perhaps someone would have said, simply, that they were afraid of losing their master. That they would miss him. That they wanted to know how to best serve him in the days ahead.


Anxiety keeps all of us from stating the obvious, from facing the reality of the situation, from staying calm, and from asking the questions that would move the group forward. We all tend to lose perspective, focusing our attention on some aspect of a situation that meets our own needs, rather than those of the situation at hand.  Under the slightest bit of increased pressure, humans tend to lose the capacity to think clearly about what is actually happening in the moment, diverting our attention to something more manageable, and making even our own principles unavailable to us. Jesus, as always it seems, sides with Mary. Her actions, odd as they might have been, were at least related to the true source of the worry. Somehow, the way out of an anxious moment is to face the truth it is telling us, rather than continually act on ways to avoid it.


This week's reflection:

Philippians 3:8 More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.


Morning: What might increase my anxiety today? What are my principles around the situation?


Evening: What made me anxious today? To what extent did I respond like Marth? Judas? Mary? What part of myself was quickly lost? How do I replace it with something more substantial?

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