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John 11:55-12:11| 5th Sunday of Lent
It’s week five in our six week journey towards the cross of Jerusalem and the tomb of resurrection in Easter. This week’s reading emphasizes the growing opposition to Jesus and consolidating certainty that death is the only way to silence him. This week’s passage retells story of Mary who anoints the feet of Jesus, recognizing that for him to accomplish his goal he must lose his life. Our readings often focus on whether this is Mary the sister of Lazarus, or a redeemed prostitute of the same name. We also regularly struggle with the response of Jesus. How can he just accept that we’ll always have the poor on earth? Yet when we focus on those textual details, we overlook the theological affirmation with which this episode challenges us: If we most know God with us in Christ who dies for us, how then might we most be with God when we lose our life? Are we called to suffering, martyrdom, abuse, or is Jesus calling us to a different way of living, a third way between victim and victimizer?
Theological Themes, Interesting Points & Inter-textual links.
Immediate Context in the larger story told by John:
It’s important to notice the immediate context of this passage (what happens immediately before and after). John 11 tells of the resurrection of a man from Bethany, Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha. John 11:2 seems to anticipate what happens in today’s selection (John 12). It’s in response to the growing faith put in Jesus by the people that the religious leaders develop a plot to kill Jesus (11:45-55), which constrains the movements of the latter. In today’s passage those leaders determine that they must kill Lazarus as well (12:10) to quiet things down and get them back to normal.
Immediately after our passage Jesus enters Jerusalem to acclamations and adoration with palm branches, song and a procession. It’s an anticipation of the arrival of the long awaited Messiah, the military leader anointed by God who would come to free Israel from its oppressing invader.
Questions for wondering and exploring:
1. What troubles you and/or encourages you in these texts? Why? How does it contain good news for us?
2. What was the price of Jesus giving life to Lazarus? For that miracle – the resurrection of Lazarus – proclaims that only Jesus can give life. In this whole section Jesus makes 2 central affirmations John 11:25-26 & John 12:7-8. What does it means that Jesus “is the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in him will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Jesus will never die.” What does it mean to believe this?
3. How is this mysterious encounter a word that is pertinent and life-giving for us in our culture today?
4. This text points to the middle way to walk between activism and devotion in our spiritual life. How do you navigate that?