Friday, 15 March 2013

Lent 5: Mary of Bethany, the "super-disciple"

Maybe I'm cheating, but this year I'm preaching on the Gospel reading from the lectionary, but also looking at other stories of Mary of Bethany, and her example of discipleship. I will preach in 3 sections.

John 12: 1-8.
As Anne was reminding the children at William Westley school this week, the gospels were written by piecing together what people could remember after the event – there was no-one jotting down all that Jesus said or did.

Each gospel writer then had to make decisions about how their gospel account was going to be pieced together.
Mark jumps straight into the gospel of Jesus with his baptism, as an adult, by John the Baptist ; Luke & Matthew begin with Jesus’ family tree.
But John begins with a prologue, putting Jesus into context as the eternal Word of God. More than any of the other gospel writers, John writes as if we know the whole story before we turn to the detail of what he writes. So Lazarus is described, in the story we’ve heard today, as the one “whom he has raised from the dead”. Judas Iscariot, meanwhile is “the one who was about to betray him”. Jesus, defending Mary looks forward and says “she bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial”. Earlier, at the start of the story of the raising of Lazarus, John has introduced Mary as “the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair”.
John wants us to know who all these people are, how they fit into the story of Jesus’ life, what each episode of Jesus’ life means in relation to the whole story.

John doesn’t tell us what Mary thought she was doing – perhaps she was simply trying to greet Jesus in the most lavish way possible, as a way of giving thanks for Lazarus being brought back to life – John wants us to know what he thinks Mary was doing.
Mary was preparing Jesus body for burial and also anointing him as king. She is telling the other disciples that serving Jesus is far more important than anything else, more important even than serving the poor. She is also warning everyone that Jesus’ hour has come – the hour of his death but also of his exaltation.
Mary is also anticipating the example that Jesus is about to give at the last supper, when he washes his disciples’ feet and tells them “I have set the example, and you should do for each other exactly what I have done for you”.

Mary is depicted almost as a ‘super-disciple’ – one who is so good at following Jesus that she has anticipated teaching he hasn’t even given yet ! But we don’t get a sense from John that she knew what she was doing, it seems she was acting on impulse, grabbing the moment to serve & celebrate Jesus, and only accidentally giving others insight into what was going to happen.

Mary teaches us that disciples are, primarily,  those who serve Jesus, falling at his feet to worship and giving all they have for their Lord.

But where else do we find Mary in the bigger picture? And what do we learn there? We’ll look in a moment at 2 more stories involving Mary – another one from John’s gospel and one from Luke.

John 11: 17 – 32.
So just 2 chapters before the reading we had first from John, we are introduced to Lazarus, Mary & Martha. This is where Mary is introduced as the one “who later anointed the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair. Lazarus is sick and Jesus is sent a message telling him this. However, by the time Jesus gets to Bethany, Lazarus has been dead for 3 days.

Again, we find Mary at Jesus’ feet – this time asking for help, confident that Jesus is the one who could make a difference “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

And because we know the whole story, we know that Mary is right to believe in Jesus as the one who can help and heal. Jesus orders the stone to be rolled away, and commands Lazarus to rise from his grave.

Because we know the whole story, we know that Jesus himself will rise after 3 days, but no human hand will
need to roll away the stone for him, and no human voice will call him back to life.

Mary, the ‘super-disciple’, shows us that we can trust Jesus to hear our prayers and to answer them, because he is the Lord of Life and Death.

Luke 10: 38 - 42
Here we meet Mary & Martha, but not Lazarus. Martha is busy serving (as she was in the first reading) – serving the Lord and other guests as they eat. But where is Mary? At the Lord’s feet as she has been in each story. Whilst Martha worries and fusses, Mary sits at the feet of Jesus, listening to al he says.

And when Martha wants Jesus to tell Mary to help, he says “Mary has chosen what is best, and it will not be taken away from her”.

Mary, the super-disciple, knows that it is not enough only to worship and to pray, she also has to listen to what the Lord is teaching her.

So today we can all learn from Mary – who may not know the meaning of all that she does, but who stands as a true, loyal and loving disciple of Jesus Christ.

Let us pray for the strength to follow Christ as Mary does, to the glory of His name. Amen.

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