Summary: It doesn’t take long at this dinner party before the chaos breaks out, this time through the surprising appearance of Mary, pouring a ludicrously expensive jar of perfume.
We’re turning to John’s Gospel today, which, quite frankly, is a little unnerving for me, as I find John’s Gospel more difficult to deal with than the other three
John retells the story of Jesus in such a way that things are rarely as they appear to be. Jesus speaks of being born ’from above’ and seems to be talking about some sort of re-birthing, but He’s not (John 3). He speaks of ’living water’ and people start looking for a well, but they’re on the wrong track (John 4). Jesus tells the crowds ’my flesh is food indeed!’, and most of His audience shake their heads and go home, and we’re left wondering too (John 6)!
Personally I prefer Luke’s Gospel, as it is much more straightforward. In Luke’s Gospel we get explanations of some of the parables, lest we miss the point, and Jesus speaks unambiguously about our need to pour ourselves out for the poor and needy, whereas John quotes Jesus as saying, "the poor you will always have with you"!
There’s much that is recorded in John’s Gospel that is not as it first appears to be, much that is mysterious, ambiguous, unsettling. Our scene in John 12 though opens with Jesus attending a meal, and what could be more straightforward than that?
Indeed, while there were a lot of strange and wonderful things about the Lord Jesus, one very ordinary thing about Him was that He had to eat! And while he was able to speak in a way that others couldn’t speak and pray in a way that got results others didn’t get and perform miracles in a way that other just couldn’t, it appears that when it came to eating and drinking, He was exactly like the rest of us.
Even so, with Jesus you come to expect that unexpected, and the presence of Lazarus at table with Jesus that night should serve as a tip-off that nothing could remain stable for too long with Jesus in the room!
Lazarus, you may remember, had been dead only a few days earlier - so dead in fact that when Jesus asked for the stone to be rolled back from the tomb, the ever-practical Martha said, "but Lord, he stinketh!" (King James Version). Well, now he stinketh no more but instead has a hearty appetite and is at table with the family!
And you’ll remember, I trust, the reaction of the religious authorities to this amazing miracle? They held a party in Jesus’ honour, didn’t they? They organised a ceremony and gave Him the key to the city! They proclaimed a day of prayer and thanksgiving for the wonderful new things that God was doing in their midst NOT! Rather, we are told, it was the Lazarus incident that made them resolve to kill Jesus.
We’ve trod this path before, but I suspect that there may still be some of us who find it hard to believe that the religious establishment could get in a murderous rage over the wonderful gift of new life to Lazarus. After all, isn’t that what we religious people are on about - healing, forgiveness and new life?
No. That’s what we’re supposed to be on about, but if you look historically at religion in our society, you’ll find that religion generally functions as a form of social control.
Religion is ’the opiate of the masses’, as Marx put it. It keeps people in their place and helps them to transfer any frustrations they might have with the government to their inward struggles with guilt and sin.
And so you can’t have charismatic preachers like Jesus moving about and functioning completely outside of the accepted channels, destabilising society and challenging the accepted order by preaching on hillsides and raising dead people!
We look for a quiet, peaceful life, with predicability and order, where nothing can be lost that is not insured, and where every mishap is balanced by an appropriate form of compensation, where people know who they are and where they belong, where lepers stay in the lovely leper colonies that we built for them, and where aunt Sally, as much as we all loved her, stays in the ground where we put her!
The role of religion is to provide stability and comfort in an often chaotic world, is it not? Well …, not the religion of Jesus, so it would seem, for nothing is as it seems with Jesus, who turns out not to be quite the ’Prince of Peace’ that we might have thought He was, for every time He enters a scene, there is always ensuing conflict!
And it doesn’t take long at this dinner party before the chaos breaks out, this time through the surprising appearance of Mary, pouring a ludicrously expensive jar of perfume over Jesus’ feet, and then wiping His feet with her hair!