Days of Judgement
Today’s chapter of John’s gospel begins with the raising of Lazarus of Bethany. Even before it happens, as the story begins, we hear that it is his sister, “Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair”. Then follows the beautiful dialogue with Lazarus’ other sister, Martha, “I am the Resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this? Yes, Lord; I have believed that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”
Then along with Mary and Martha, Jesus’ dear friends, sharing their tears, they approach the tomb. Overriding the caution of the ever-practical Martha that there will be a stench, Jesus calls forth Lazarus.
Today’s reading then continues. The council agrees that Jesus performs many signs, and the result will be that the Romans will destroy the Holy Places and the nation. We hear the a great prophecy that bears the weight of authority because it is made by the high priest: ‘It is expedient that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish’. Then John gives us the reason for the passion and death of Jesus: “He prophesied that Jesus should die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather into one all of God’s children who are scattered abroad”.
How contrary to the sign of Jesus in raising Lazarus, to the hope filled the words of Jesus to Martha, and to the joy in the neighborhood of Bethany! Both Matthew and Mark make clear there is not purity of intention in what they High Priest says. They tell us Pilate was aware that Jesus is handed over out of jealousy.
Our gospel today takes a special meaning by its place in the liturgy of Lent. Tomorrow we will remember the jubilant palm procession that welcomes Jesus to Jerusalem. In the synoptic gospels what follows is the cleansing of the temple, and the judgment against Jesus and the determination that he be destroyed.
On Monday we will hear of another welcome. A dinner celebrating Lazarus life! Perhaps the moment comes when the ever-attentive Martha thinks, ‘what is my sister doing now?’, as she sees Mary approach Jesus, open the expensive jar of perfume and pour it over Jesus’ feet. The house is silent as Mary slowly and reverently uses her long hair to wipe the feet of Jesus. Fragrance fills the house. She gives away the rich perfume but wants what clings to Jesus to cling to her also. What a different judgment of Jesus, what a response of love and gratitude to the one who raised her brother to life.
As the high priest acts with anger, so the silence in the home of Bethany is broken when Judas voices his anger. No purity of intention; he too does not understand love.
What Jesus did was not only for Lazarus but for all of God’s scattered children, gathering us from the fear of death to life. What Mary does, an action that will always be told in the telling of the Gospel, expresses love from all of us.
Fr. William Murphy, CP is the pastor of Immaculate Conception parish in Jamaica, New York.