Lent 5C, 2010
A Liturgy is also available
TO CELEBRATE AND BE GLAD EQUALS GOSPEL EXTRAVAGANCE
This morning’s theological storyteller we call John, has told a very old story.
And this story seems to have been reworked several times
as it appears in various guises in at least three other gospels.
In John, it is a good woman.
In Luke, a sinful woman.
In Mark, the woman anoints Jesus’ head.
In Luke and John, she anoints his feet.
Later generations wrongly imagined the woman was Mary Magdalene.
And the differences go on.
In John, Judas objects.
In Matthew, the disciples object.
In Mark, it was some of those present who objected.
In Luke, it was Simon, the pharisee who objects.
In Matthew and Mark, all this took place in the house of Simon, the leper.
In Luke, it happened in the house of Simon, the pharisee.
In John, it took place in the home of Lazarus.
Confused? Well... we certainly have quite a story on our hands!
Amid all the changes to this story, I began to wonder:
If I really listen to this story, where is it’s focus?
So in response let me make the following suggestion.
The real focus, I feel, is on the response of the woman.
But as we also know the woman’s response is not always welcomed.
The protests in many of these stories
seem to focus on the waste of resources,
with those resources going to assist the poor.
So as a guide, Uniting Church theologian Bill Loader offers this comment:
“It is not that we should see [her response] as stroking the ego of Jesus, but rather as indicative of her response... A person is responding to love and acceptance. It is not the time to talk budgets, but to value the person” (WLoader Web site 2004).
In the process of thinking and talking about this story,
I found myself remembering some other stories along the way.
Stories such as:
The man who had two sons;
A man with a hundred sheep, and
A woman with ten coins.
So I went back to them and started to read them out loud, again.
And as I listened to myself telling these stories this is what I heard.
• In the parable of the man who had two sons
we meet the younger son who,
after collecting his share of the family’s estate,
leaves home and spends it all on extravagant living.
When he returns home, broke,
he is welcomed back by his father, who bankrolls,
out of the other brother's inheritance, an extravagant homecoming party.
• In the parable of the one sheep missing from a flock of 100,
the fellow goes off searching for the lost one until it is found.
And when he finds that one sheep,
throws a party in an act of extravagance
- and maybe even offering the sheep as part of the party food!
• Likewise, in the parable of the woman who loses a coin...
With a sense of urgency she lights a lamp,
sweeps the house, and goes searching.
She is in charge of the household finances. Indeed:
"her power and status derive from maintaining orderly household management" (Reid 2000:187).
So she doesn’t give up until she has found that coin.
Then she throws an extravagant party,
probably spending that coin and several others,
in honour of the recovered coin and her selfhood.
Extravagance and joy characterise these three Lukan stories.
As it does, I reckon, in this morning’s story by John.
But what of John’s added comment:
'There will always be poor around, but I won't always be around.'
Well, again I decided to go back and ‘hear’ that again,
checking the passage from Deuteronomy
which many scholars feel John has been inspired by.
And this is what I heard:
Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth,
I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor
and needy neighbour in your land’ (NRSV).
Open your hand... Be compassionate to others!
Com- passion. Feeling with.
From the very depths of your person.
So with the broader Deuteronomy text ringing in my ears,
I reckon this story from John implies that it was:
Mary - with the lotion and the touch, and not
Judas - with the speech and the pious-sounding advice,
whose response was genuinely compassionate.
The speech by Judas sets up a competitive situation and a closed hand.
The action of Mary sets up common likenesses and an open hand.
Matthew Fox of ‘creation spirituality’ fame,
has some interesting comments on compassion which I feel could be helpful:
“Competition isolates, separates and estranges. Compassion unites, makes one and embraces... If we can move from competition to compassion we will have moved from dull and moralistic and ungrateful and legalistic (thinking)... to celebrative thanking... Celebration leads to fuller and fuller compassion” (Fox 1979:72, 89).
Extravagance and celebration and joy!
For of such are the images of the ‘glimpsed alternative’,
and ‘revelation of potential’ called the realm of God.
I reckon Jack Spong has got it right: love wastefully!
Fox, M 1979. A spirituality named compassion and the healing of the global village, Humpty Dumpty and us. NM: Santa Fe. Bear & Company.
Reid, B. E. 2000. Parables for preachers. Year C. MN: Collegeville. Liturgical Press.
Scott, B. B. 2001. Re-Imagine the world. An introduction to the parables of Jesus. CA: Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press.
Scott, B. B. 1989. Hear then the parable. A commentary on the parables of Jesus. MN: Minneapolis. Fortress Press.