“In your light we see light.”–Psalm 36:9b
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April 10, 2017
Collect and lections from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer
Follow the assigned readings with me this Lent….
Kenneth Randolph Taylor
Isaiah 42:1-9 (New Revised Standard Version):
Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations,
He will not cry or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring for justice.
He will not grow faint or be crushed
until he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his teaching.
Thus says God, the LORD,
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people upon it
and spirit to those who walk in it:
I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness,
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
a light to the nations,
to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness.
I am the LORD, that is my name;
my glory I give to no other,
nor my praise to idols.
See, the former things have come to pass,
and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth,
I tell you of them.
Hebrews 11:29-12:3 (New Revised Standard Version):
Note: The Prayer Book states that the reading begins with 11:39, but I have backed it up to 11:29. My practice is to extend readings sometimes, but never to abbreviate them.
By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.
And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets–who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raising fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented–of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.
Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.
Psalm 36:5-10 (New Revised Standard Version):
Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
your judgments are like the great deep;
you save humans and animals alike, O LORD.
How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light.
O continue your steadfast love to those who know you,
and your salvation to the upright of heart!
John 12:1-11 (New Revised Standard Version):
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom had raised from the dead. They gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made from pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; the kept the common purse and used to steal what was put in it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.
Mark 14:3-11 (New Revised Standard Version):
Note: The Prayer Book lists the reading from Mark as 14:3-9, but I have extended this by two verses.
While he [Jesus] was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. But some were there who said to one another in anger, “Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”
Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. When they heard it, they were greatly pleased, and promised to give him money. So he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.
Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find int none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
I note the two options for the Gospel reading. Clearly these are variations on the same story, for they are quite similar. Yet they contain discrepancies with regard to minor details. This fact does not trouble me, for I am not a Biblical literalist. I have read the Bible too closely to think of the book as inerrant or infallible.
One needs to avoid a basic error in logic. Often people mistake accuracy for truth. Truth, in the Biblical sense, is that which is reliable. So, what is the truth common to John 12:1-11 and Mark 14:3-11? Whether the woman was Mary of Bethany or an unnamed female does not matter. Whether she anointed Jesus’ head or feet is irrelevant. Whether this happened at the home of Simon the leper or at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in unimportant. Let us look at the proverbial forest, not the trees.
Jesus recognized the love behind the woman’s gesture and accepted both. And he knew that his critic(s) operated from cynicism and self-interest, not humanitarian interests. A denarius was one day’s wage, so nard ointment worth 300 denarii was truly extravagant.
In God’s light we see light. In the person of Jesus we see God. And God is love. Throughout history people have committed atrocities, betrayed innocent people (including Jesus), and condoned inhumane deeds in the name of God. Current and recent events indicate that this pattern continues. In this context, a simple, loving, and extravagant anointing of Jesus, which is inherently beautiful, seems more lovely.
May we recognize and applaud beautiful acts of love toward God, and commit some of these, too. Such love is true.