CAPC Oakland

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Blogging Towards Sunday, March 17, 2013



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.

Inter-textual points:

  • The other gospels [Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; Luke 7:37-39] differ from John’s telling in that they insist upon:
    • The identity of the woman as a sinful woman, most likely a prostitute, while John emphasizes the link between this episode and the previous one, the link that Mary is the sister of Lazarus who was raise from the dead.  Does she anoint him in recognition of his power over death, or for his power over sin?
    • John has Judas being upset at the extravagant action, which seems to be a waste of limited resources.  The other gospels have all of the disciples saying this.
    • In John this episode happens after the resurrection of Lazarus, whereas in the other gospel accounts it happens at the last supper.  What’s the difference?  Does it even matter?
  • We’re told that the nard, or perfume is quite expensive – worth up to a year’s salary.  Most likely it was some sort of family heirloom or inheritance.  What does it mean that Mary “cashes it in” to honor Jesus in this way Mary’s action is inappropriate in three ways: 1) it seems (at least to Judas) to be a waste of money, 2) it’s inappropriate for a respectable woman to unbind her hair in public, and 3)  cleaning the feet of another was the job and duty of a slave or servant, not a friend.  So why did Mary do it?
  • Why is Judas – and the other disciples by extension in the other texts – so upset – even angry – at Mary’s gesture of radical humility and genuine devotion? Do they want to control Jesus?  Are they upset that this woman is crowding in on their turf, as they’re the “chosen” disciples?  Are they misogynists, struggling to accept that Jesus would deem women to be important, possible the equal of men in life and ministry?  What is Jesus saying by defending Mary?
  • There is irony in the text.  It recalls the story of the miracle of turning water into wine at Cana, and also we can almost smell the perfum (John 12:1-3) which contrasts with the stink of the rotting cadaver of Lazarus in John 11:38-40.


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?

About capcoakland

We are a community of faith seeking to live God's will together: that space where the passions of our hearts and the needs of the world meet in our context of Berkeley, Oakland and Piedmont. Our perspective is based from a Christian center, open to the mystery of God's presence in our world. Our core values are celebration, community & prayer. This blog is our avenue for program updates and information.

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This entry was posted on March 12, 2013 by in Grow and tagged .
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