2016 - Lenten Reflection – The Path of Gratitude

Fifth Sunday in Lent

2016 - Lenten Reflection – The Path of Gratitude
Stained glass window in St. Michaels Church, Bray, England.

"Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of 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; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was 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.'"
- John 12:1-8

Lent is a time to reflect on all God in Christ has done for us, a time for being grateful. In this passage we can see gratitude shown in several ways, and we also see its effects.

There is no question that the family of May, Martha and Lazarus had a lot for which to be grateful. In chapter 11 of John, Jesus had raised this man from the dead. Could anyone with a pulse not be full of gratitude after such a phenomenal gift? This was a family that was close to Jesus, and he to them. So, like a lot of us would do, they made him dinner.

We as human beings put a lot of stock in food. It's important not just to keep us alive and healthy, but it's meaningful to us for other reasons as well.

Food is a means to an end, and a social tool, and a way to show love and appreciation. Martha, Mary and Lazarus knew this, and they wanted to show Jesus just how much he meant to them. Once he had arrived, however, each of them showed their gratitude in different ways.

Lazarus sat at the table with Jesus. Perhaps he had gotten the table out or spruced up the yard. Perhaps Martha had shooed him from the kitchen.

And Mary? I have always seen Mary as a quiet, deep-thinking person. She sees beyond the everyday, perhaps she's artistic, certainly she feels things strongly. Mary does a unique thing to show her love to the Lord. She anoints his feet with precious perfume and wipes them with her hair.

This may seem like a strange thing to do. Yet in the Middle East at that time, it would have made sense. Perfumes were not easily made or obtained, and spices and lotions were used to performs coronations, cleanse bodies, prepare them for burial, and other very important functions. It was therefore a very meaningful way to express the depth of her gratitude. She was making a sacrifice of something that had cost a lot.

Have you ever smelled perfume that is made from the best ingredients? The smell fills the room, arrests the attention. Mary's gift of gratitude got everyone's focus. They couldn't help but notice. Without a word, Mary spoke volumes of what Jesus meant to her; and wiping his feet with her hair showed her humility before who he was. Her hair was her crowning glory, while feet were — and are — considered dirty in the mindset of that culture. Mary was a profound speaker.

During Lent, we are called to gratitude for the sacrifice of Christ, dying for our sins and rising in acceptance of us as children of God. In this passage, this family gives us an example of the path of gratitude.

The story doesn't stop there, though. John adds Judas' thoughts on the subject. John wrote his Gospel many years after the others and tends to add commentary on Judas that doesn't appear elsewhere. Here he tells us that Judas kept the common purse and stole from it. Is this the point, or is the point that Judas is now hated as the betrayer of Jesus? We don't know, but here he portrays the attitude of a lot of people. Reality intrudes. Practicality rears its ugly head. Judas is here to bring us all down to earth. He doesn't see the point.

"Why do you even waste your money on this luxury, when you should be giving that money to the destitute? How selfish can you be, and how self-centered Jesus is if he accepts such extravagance?" Judas tells them all.

Sometimes, don't we get a little like Judas? We are uncomfortable with feelings of gratitude, a little put off with deep emotions that bubble up to the surface. Why don't people just get over losses? Why are they still weeping over the memory of a loved one after all this time? Let's get on with things!

And yet Lent is a waiting time. A time to think, to meditate, to share our gratitude with God and each other. Jesus rebukes Judas here. "Leave her alone...you do not always have me."

We do not always have Lent. We are not always offered this time apart to experience anew what God in Christ has given us. Rejoice in Lent. Be humbled, reflect, renew, for the work ahead, and just — be grateful. Amen.

Patricia Parent is a Native storyteller, musician, writer and lifelong student of the Bible. She and her husband of 41 years (a United Methodist elder whom she met at Bible college) live in Fall River, MA.

Posted or updated: 3/11/2016 12:00:00 AM

Our Lenten Journey

In this season of Lent, we are reflecting on the 150-year legacy of United Methodist Women. Each of our Lenten reflections is part of our ongoing legacy of putting faith, hope and love into action.

Save March 23 as the date to celbrate 150 years with a gift to the legacy fund.
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