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Restoring the dignity of the marginalised and turning social structures upside down.

Something to read

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.

- John 12:3 from full reading John 12:1-11.

Something to think about

In John 11 we read of Jesus’ raising of Lazarus. Here in chapter 12, we can assume that Martha and Mary are still jubilant and Lazarus continues to be the talk of the town. At the same time, Jesus’ actions are attracting the attention of the authorities who have begun making plans to have him killed. To avoid the public eye, Jesus has been ‘lying low’ in the wilderness town of Ephraim.  

Jesus now returns to this house of friends, who welcome him with a meal. As Mary sees her beloved brother and Jesus sharing food together, her act of extravagant generosity is understandable. Where words fall short, her action demonstrates love and deep gratitude, while simultaneously acknowledging the ever-growing sense that Jesus’ days are numbered.

Judas’ logic, however, is quite appealing. This was expensive perfume, and poverty was a daily reality in the town of Bethany. Surely the perfume could be put to better use?   

Jesus does not necessarily take issue with Judas’ line of reasoning. Rather he challenges Judas’ sharp dismissal of Mary’s choice and the assumption that his response to the Gospel message was the correct one. Two thousand years (and countless denominations) later, can we really say we are any wiser?  

Jesus comes to Mary’s defence: 'Leave her alone.' He defends the scandalous actions of a woman over the opinion of a man, legitimising her public expression of kindness and devotion, thereby restoring her dignity.

The message of the Gospel is one that restores the dignity of the marginalised and turns social structures upside down. It was not financial handouts that would ultimately see Jesus crucified, but his challenge to the powers and structures that facilitated poverty and injustice. As Holy Week unfolds, we see this played out to its inevitable conclusion.

Something to pray

God of love,

Today may we give generously and receive graciously. 

May our homes be places of welcome, understanding and peace.

May our hearts be open to light in unexpected places. 

As we follow you in the way of love and justice,

give us courage to believe that the world can be changed,

so that your kingdom may come on earth, as it is in heaven.

Today’s contributors are Helen Killick and Gerard Sowney, joint Chaplains in Lagan College, an integrated post-primary school in Belfast at the time of writing.