The second is from the gospel of John. Before I give you the link I have to admit that I struggle with this gospel. At the time this gospel was written, the Jesus-followers were splitting off from the rest of the Jewish community. There was a lot of bad feeling on both sides and it comes through in this gospel in “anti-Semitism” or anti-Jewish feeling.
This is unfortunate because for centuries after some people would use the anti-Semitism in the Christian gospels as an excuse for prejudice, hatred, terrible violence, and oppression against Jewish people, the ancestral people of Jesus. I think this would have made him both sad and angry, because he worked against oppression of all kinds. One positive message we can take from this is to careful about what we do or say, because it can cause ripples and consequences we never intended. I don’t think John intended to perpetuate centuries of persecution of Jewish people.
And still, I struggle with John’s gospel. Today’s reading the gospel keeps talking about the Jews as if they are somehow separate or other than Jesus and his followers, who were all Jewish! Jesus taught in synagogues and temples! So I have changed to wording to reflect that, while Jesus lived, this separation did not really exist.
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 put into 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.”
When the great crowd learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, 11since it was on account of him that many of Jewish people were deserting them and were believing in Jesus.
Anointing was the first thing that struck me in these readings. When I looked at them I had just read the 23rd Psalm (The Lord is my Shepherd) to a patient and the words “He anoints my head with oil, my cup overflows” jumped out at me. For the first time I realized there was an anointing there – an anointing that seems to have a healing quality to it. That is one purpose of anointing, to heal.
Anointing can also mean to empower a person to do something, or to recognize the power they already possess. In scripture kings, priests, and prophets were anointed. It was a ceremony or ritual that signaled a change, some threshold they had crossed into a calling.
Christ literally means “anointed one.” For what was he anointed? In Luke’s gospel Jesus goes into a synagogue early in his ministry and reads from the prophet Isaiah, chapter 62, 18“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Jesus says, quite clearly, that this is what he has come to do.
It’s interesting that he quotes the prophet Isaiah because I think the reading from Isaiah for today also talks about anointing. Isaiah describes the Jewish people as anointed by God. Speaking for God, he says, “21the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.” That is our purpose. We are anointed to declare praise for the Sacred.
So anointing can mean many things. It can have a healing meaning. It can be about being called for a purpose. It can be about power – the power of a king, or of a priest, or of a prophet, or of a people- the power to priase.
Barbara Brown Taylor, one of my favorite preachers, says that in doing this Mary is being a prophet, foretelling that Jesus will soon die. Perhaps at some level she knew that would be her only chance, because when she and others came to anoint his dead body they would find only an empty tomb.
So all kinds of people can be anointed - healed, empowered, honored. My question is, have you ever been anointed? Are you being anointed for some purpose that is growing in you?
Perhaps you have been anointed for the purpose of healing – someone has anointed you in order to heal you. Or maybe you have been anointed others, to heal them. Maybe since childhood you have wanted to help heal people who are suffering, as a doctor or nurse, or in some other way. Have you ever been anointed? Are you being anointed? Sometimes it is something that grows slowly in you.
Perhaps you have been anointed for a kingly sort of purpose, like being a manager or being responsible for a number of people. You may have always wanted that role, or the role may have chosen you. Have you ever been anointed? Are you being anointed, called to some different purpose in life?
Perhaps you have been anointed for some priestly purpose, to recognize through ritual the transitions in life. Perhaps you have always felt the calling to help people in the transition from life to death – it’s a special calling. Have you ever been anointed? Are you being anointed?
Maybe you have been anointed to act as a prophet – to speak against injustice or to look into the future. Maybe that flame has always been in you or maybe circumstances pushed you to the point where you had to stand up and speak. Have you ever been anointed? Are you being anointed?
Perhaps you have been anointed for the purpose of holding up and praising the sacred, the holy, what is most important in life. That is an anointing anyone, in any role, can share. Have you ever felt anointed for that purpose? Are you being anointed for it now?
If you have ever felt anointed for some purpose, you know it can be challenging and even dangerous, at times. It was for Jesus. Isaiah reassures us that even in those wilderness times we will find restoring waters that will refresh our spirits. It is important to take advantage of those oasis times, so that we can return to our work. Anointing does not mean driving ourselves into the ground.
And so being anointed can be comforting as well- imagine the comfort Mary offered Jesus in anointing his feet as she did. She was saying, in her actions, that though he was going to die soon he would be surrounded by love - generous, humble love.
So I pray for all who are anointed and exhausted to receive the anointing of rest. I pray for all who are called to an anointing, for the courage to take up that call. I pray for all of us called to uphold the Sacred and praise what is important in life, that we may go through our days with praise in our hearts.
We Are Your Hands By Tess Baumberger
We are your hands upon this earth.
May we touch each other with gentle strength,
Offering healing, comfort, expressing love.
Your arms are our arms.
Give us strength to build the world
According to the blueprints of compassion.
We are your voice unto the nations.
May we speak words of comfort, hope,
And sing bravely songs of justice.
Your feet are our feet.
Guide them on the paths of righteousness
And when we become lost, find us.
We are your body on this earth.
Renew us who are your acting in the world
That we may experience your joy in the doing.