This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on March 13, 2016.
This week’s lectionary passage continues with the theme of generous hospitality and extravagant love. Last week, a father celebrated the return of his prodigal son (Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32). This passage describes Mary’s generous act of anointing Jesus’ feet with costly perfume. The narrative begins with his return to Bethany. The Passover is now just six days away, an indication to the knowledgeable reader that the time of Jesus’ death is fast approaching. Jesus returns to the home of Lazarus whom he raised from the dead (John 11:1-44). This was a moving encounter in which Jesus grieved with his dear friends, Martha and Mary, and then restored their brother back to life. The experience certainly cemented the sisters’ devotion to Jesus. No doubt the entire family welcomed him back warmly into their home. In fact, they are giving a dinner in his honor. It is not hard to imagine the joyous reunion and precious fellowship shared between hosts and guests. This must have been an encouragement in the midst of a tense time when Jesus’ life is being threatened because of the act of raising Lazarus (John 11:53-57). Jesus’ relationship with the three siblings reminds us of his commitment to friendship, and the calling to love others even when it requires significant personal sacrifice and even risk. This is an important theme in John’s gospel (John 15:1-17).
On this occasion, Martha takes on her customary role of serving the meal, and Mary continues to defy societal expectations (Luke 10:38-42). Mary is pictured as a committed disciple whose focus continues to be on her love for her Lord. The act of anointing Jesus with expensive perfume is remarkable for a few reasons. First, the perfume is ridiculously costly. Nard would have been used to anoint those most worthy of honor. It was imported from India, and the narrative notes that it was pure, not watered down. Any practical soul would find a way to honor Jesus that did not require the use of an item costing approximately a year’s wages for the average day laborer. It would have been common to wash a guest’s feet, but to do so with a liquid that could have been used more sensibly (as Judas notes succinctly) seems highly questionable. The passage does not identify Mary’s motivation for this act. Perhaps she was overcome with gratefulness at the restoration of Lazarus and was simply so devoted to Jesus that she sought to her express her appreciation in the fullest way possible.
This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on March 6, 2016.
The narrative of the prodigal son is certainly one of the most well-known parables in the gospels. We may be tempted to begin the reading in verse eleven, but there is good reason to commence with verse one. The passage opens by stating that tax collectors and sinners were coming to listen to Jesus. According to the Pharisees and scribes, he welcomed them and even shared meals with them. Collecting taxes and tariffs was considered dishonorable work, and those employed in this profession were known to take more than the mandated fees.
The sinners described in the passage were probably apostate Jews who were regularly breaking religious laws. We do not learn the specific nature of their sins, but those tasked with religious leadership were evidently appalled by Jesus’ willingness to mix with this class of people. They grumbled about Jesus’ actions, something that they had done before (Luke 5:29-30). Pharisees and scribes worked diligently to maintain their religious and cultural status. In contrast, Jesus had a history of upending the religious system by associating with outcasts and inviting them to repent (Luke 5:31-32). Jesus’ compassion continues to raise questions today about the identities of religious outcasts and the hospitality they ought to receive.
This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on February 28, 2016.
In last week’s lectionary text (Luke 13:31-35), the narrative began with a group of Pharisees bringing frightening news to Jesus about a threat upon his life. We begin this week’s text with another troubling political report. Jesus is informed that Pilate has killed a group of Galileans. The events described in this passage cannot be located in Jewish resources from this period, but the historian, Josephus, acknowledges that Pilate was known to act with brutal force to maintain the balance of power. We are not given a reason for Pilate’s actions. It is possible that the Galileans were accused of insurgency and then executed. Their blood flowed together with the blood of sacrifices at the temple which suggests that they were likely in the vicinity of the temple when they were killed. This fact makes the report seem even more horrific.
Luke’s account does not provide insight into the intent of those who bring this report to Jesus. Perhaps they expected him to speak to the relative injustice of the situation as many of us might do. Perhaps they wanted him to be outraged and come to the Galileans defense, pronouncing God’s judgement against Roman perpetrators. Instead, Jesus responds in an unexpected manner by raising questions about judgement and suffering. There are references in scripture pointing to the fact that some Jews wondered if tragic events occurred as punishment for personal sins (for example, John 9:2-3). Why did these Galileans have to suffer so greatly, and what about the eighteen souls killed because the tower of Siloam fell upon them? We continue to ask difficult questions of theodicy today about why bad things happen to seemingly good people.
This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on February 21, 2016.
In the previous passage, we find Jesus making his way to Jerusalem, teaching about the kingdom of God and curing many illnesses as he passes through villages and towns. While some choose to follow him, delighting in his works and praising God, not all welcome him warmly. Cold and calculating responses to Jesus’ presence intensify as he arrives in Jerusalem. In fact, verse 31 opens with a very serious warning. A group of Pharisees come to Jesus and urge him to leave the city because Herod is seeking to kill him. This is no idle threat. Herod is a powerful political figure who has already shown his penchant for violence in the imprisonment and beheading of John (Luke 3:19-20; 9:9). Luke confirms that Herod has heard the perplexing reports about Jesus’ miracles and those of his followers, and he has been seeking an opportunity to see Jesus for himself (Luke 9:7-9). According to this group of Pharisees, Herod’s curiosity has taken a dark turn. Jesus’ ministry in Jerusalem and his very life are now at stake. This kind of ministerial success does not come without significant opposition and even the possibility of death.
Luke’s account of the events gives no information about Herod’s motives or those of the Pharisees who warn Jesus. Instead the author focuses on the nature of Jesus’ response to the aggressor. Rather than heed the warning and make preparations to flee as most would be tempted to do, Jesus faces the threat head on. He speaks confidently, sending Herod the message that he will continue battling evil and bringing healing until he reaches his intended goal. While Herod may act like a fox, he is not a true obstacle to Jesus’ ministry. According to rabbinic resources, a fox may be described as a pretender or a weakling. Jesus could be suggesting here that Herod does not have what it takes to follow through on his plans. We get the message that no earthly power or personage will thwart the purposes of God that Jesus was anointed to accomplish (Luke 4:17-19).