Readings for March 17. Isaiah 43:16-21, Ps 126, Phil 3:4b-14, John 12:1-8
The Isaiah and Philipians scriptures make similar comments about time. "Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!" "...forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead." In each case, the former things are good, but what is to come in God's plan is even better.
Neither passage is a devaluing of history. Isaiah, especially, celebrates God's dominion over nature and human events by recalling the Exodus from Egypt-the deliverance of the people from slavery. It is a story that has shaped both Jewish and Christian understanding of the power of God and God's concern for people who suffer. The story of the Exodus is the core of liberation theology today. The old stories are important becasue they shape our understanding of God.The reminder here, though, is to move beyond nostalgia, to use what is learned, and keep going, keep moving "on toward the goal, to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."
(It's maybe a silly comparision, but I am reminded of some "writerly wisdom" I heard that said a writer is only as good as her/his next piece. There's no time to sit and be smug about the past, because the present and the future are what need attention.)
The story from John, where Mary pours expensive perfume onto Jesus' feet and wipes them with her hair, is loaded with interesting bits. Practically minded people can't help but empathize with Judas' comment on the waste. It's hard to wrap our heads around the importance of what Mary does. Maybe the secret lies in the contrast between the motivations that power both Judas and Mary. Jesus sees the heart. He tells Judas to leave Mary alone, the perfume was already set aside for his burial. So the money would never have gone to the poor anyway-but should Mary have used the perfume now? What will they use for the burial? Is Mary's use of this while Jesus is alive a denial of death or simply the greatest way she could think to honor him?
It is interesting to be in Martha and Mary's house again. Once again Martha is serving and Mary is at Jesus' feet and doing something that gets people talking. Both women make valuable contributions worth mentioning in the story. (But it's never as interesting to talk about the serving part is it? There are so many people who serve in the background, working to make things possible for the group experience in worship, in fellowship, in caring. Thank you to all those Martha's and men who serve quietly!)
Finally, it's interesting to think of having Lazarus at the table. He is recently raised from the dead, and crowds of people gather because of him. What kind of stories is he telling? Obviously he is a great witness to who Jesus is. Reading further into verses 9 and 10 tells us a bit about the effects he is having! We have often, in worship meetings, discussed a desire to have people do more sharing about our encounters with God. We need to hear each other's stories and not just stories from designated church leaders. We don't, however, have an established habit of speaking about faith and life like this. When it does happen, it is amazing and we remember it and are encouraged. How can we authenically encourage and include more testimony in our worship and fellowship? Ideas welcome!