Sunday, April 21, 2019

An Idle Tale

Christ is Risen
Christ is Risen Indeed.

The lectionary for Easter Sunday offers two accounts of the resurrection. The choice is the story in the Gospel of John or the Gospel of Luke. I read through them both, the phrase that really caught my attention was “these words seemed to them an idle tale” (Luke 24:11). 

Each account of the resurrection has some minor differences. In Luke’s story the spices were being taken to the tomb in the early morning. One presumes to continue the practice of preparation of the body, which may have been interrupted by the Sabbath. 

It was a party of women, three of whom are named —Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James — they found no body. In the Lucan account, they met two men who spoke to them. “Why do you look for the living amongst the dead?” Then proceeded to remind the women that on the third day Christ would rise. 

The women returned to the disciples. The text doesn’t tell us how they returned. Were they quiet and ponderous or running and happy?  I can imagine a lot of conflicting emotions — perhaps some joy, perhaps some hope, perhaps some confusion, perhaps some fear.

They reached the disciples and told their story. Initially they were not believed. The apostles thought it “an idle tale”. Did they dismiss it because it was women who testified of it? Or, was it simply too incredulous? I wonder if I had been one hearing from the women would I, too, have dismissed it as an idle tale. Ultimately, Peter decided to check out the story and was amazed also to find the empty tomb.

This “idle tale” is the foundation of the Christian faith. 
This “idle tale” has brought hope to millions of people worldwide. 
This “idle tale” reminds us of the cyclical nature of life—death—life. A cycle that is reflected each year in nature. 
This “idle tale” fills with overwhelming joy.

What a powerful story. What a powerful “idle tale.”

Christ is Risen
Christ is Risen Indeed.

Happy Easter

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Doing the Unexpected!

The gospel reading for today is the story of Mary anointing Jesus with costly perfume. (John 12:1-8) Jesus and the disciples were once again together in the home of Lazarus, Martha and Mary. The author of the Gospel of John brings to the readers’ attention that Lazarus was the one raised from the dead. I’m sure the occasion was a happy one, maybe they were celebrating Jesus’ role in that resurrection. The text announces that the dinner was in Jesus honour. 

This story is also recorded in the other gospels. Today, I’m only going to focus on the Johannine account. Although many details are different —for instance the woman is unnamed in two accounts —it is clearly the same tale. 

I think the most important thing to note is that Mary did the unexpected. She stepped outside the acceptable role for women of the day. It is easy to miss the impact of this in the familiarity of the story about Martha and Mary. Often, we read it as if Martha took the role of service and Mary the more spiritual route, like these were their permanent roles.
I prefer to think of Mary’s action as an aberration. She stepped out of role and did the unexpected. It was noted as such as it caused a reaction from the disciples. Maybe it even sent a shockwave through them. A powerful woman stepping out of her place!

Mary anointed his feet with costly oil. This is a powerful prophetic action which is almost unequalled in the gospels. 

The story tells us that Mary had purchased the perfume to “keep it for the day of [Jesus] burial” (8). Yet, she chose to anoint him that day. I repeat — a powerful prophetic action which is almost unequalled in the gospels.

I often wonder how Mary felt. It certainly can’t have been easy for her to do this. It is never easy to go against the status quo. Maybe it is worth realizing how hard this action must have been for Mary. Yet this one deed, this significant anointing, caused her to earn her place in history.

There is also a sort irony in this story. One worth pondering for the last weeks of Lent. At a celebration for Lazarus who was “raised from the dead” (1) Jesus was anointed for his own death.

I want to glance briefly at the role of Judas in this story. He queried whether the perfume should have been sold and given to the poor. The writer of the gospel notes in parenthesis that Judas wanted to steal the money. However, they would not have known that at the time. I often wonder if it wasn’t merely a later attempt to show that Judas was always bad! If not, why let him handle the finances? Imagine if Peter or John had been the ones to query whether the money should be given to the poor. Would it have sounded different? 

Jesus message had consistently been to side with the poor and marginalized, yet here he was lauding Mary’s action. Clearly, this shows the importance of this one prophetic action. In this story, this single action takes precedence over caring for the poor. This is not a light thing. Another part of this story well-worth reflecting on. 

Mary performed a powerful prophetic act. She stepped out of her expected role. She broke the stereotype of how a woman had to behave. Mary, and a few other women like her, made the gospel relevant for women. She helped to form and change Christianity, and continues to do whenever her story is revisited.