As usual, before we get started, this is your chance to follow the link to the texts for this week, with thanks to you, Diocesan web site…
And now, without further ado…
Isaiah 43: 16 - 21
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
The wild animals will honor me,
the jackals and the ostriches;
for I give water in the wilderness,
rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people…
Second Isaiah writes to those who are in exile in Babylon. This is time of real crisis for the faithful, a time when they need to find new hope. Second Isaiah picks up several important themes. Among them are two that we find in this text: the intimate relationship to God, which is also tied to the possession of the land – both of which are now lost – and; a re-working of the original Exodus from Egypt, which is this ‘new thing’ that will spring forth. The water that drown the armies of pharaoh will now make rivers of water in the desert, drink for a people who have been thirsty for a long, long time.
(An aside: I have always liked the imagery of the animals honoring God. It reminds me of the song that is sung by the ‘King pf the Forest’ in the movie version of The Wizard of Oz… The cowardly lion looks to the day when “each rabbit would show respect to me, the chipmunks genuflect to me…” I wonder if Isaiah inspired Harold Arlen?)
This prophet reminds his or her people, that God was not left behind in the rubble of the Temple, but is present with them now and preparing to demonstrate the divine power to intercede in their history once again.
Philippians 3: 4b - 14
Paul begins this portion of his letter to Philippi by identifying with those returning exiles, who re-built the Temple and re-defined Judaism. But, for him, all of that counts for nothing.
The true value of life, its meaning and purpose, can only be found in relationship to and with Christ. For Paul, this is the ‘new thing’ that has sprung forth. What I do for myself – for my own aggrandizement – is empty of meaning.
John 12: 1 - 8
This story appears in the other gospels and is used for a different purpose. In Luke, for example, an unnamed woman washes Jesus’ feet with her tears before anointing them with myrrh. Simon, the pharisee, who invited Jesus to dinner, is offended. If Jesus were really a prophet – Simon reasons - he would know that the woman doing this was a sinner, and he would not allow her to touch him. Jesus turns the tables on him and makes this into an object lesson about arrogance and forgiveness.
Here in John, something else is going on. The woman has a name – Mary - and we have met her before in this gospel, most recently in the previous chapter, when her brother Lazarus had died. Now, death and dressing for burial forms the backdrop once again, and while we get some surface tension from Judas about the waste of money – something that probably everyone was thinking – the real action is always lingering just below the surface.
On the one hand, this is John’s passion prediction. Jesus is letting them know he is going to die. In the other gospels he keeps telling them that he is going to be killed once they reach Jerusalem, and they continually fight him about it. Not here. Everyone is calm and more concerned about the nard that is being squandered. And, it is also a resurrection prediction. Why else we he be anointed for burial now? Because he will not be there when they come to perform that act after his death.
One other note. There is a lot of controversy about Jesus’ statement that ‘you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’
I also found this helpful, from Gil Baile’s The Gospel of John lecture:
This part about “You always have the poor with you.” We should not let this be quoted as resignation, or acquiescence, or shrugging of the shoulders in the presence of poverty. Not at all. What he means is, ‘Yes, indeed, we should minister to the poor, and you will have from now until the end of time to do that. You must do that. Plenty of time for it. Have at it. Except you won’t even be inspired to do that, unless you get what it is that I’m here to reveal to you.’ The empathy for victims as victim is something that is born of the biblical revelation. ‘Your concern for the poor is not something that’s in juxtaposition to your devotion to me. Your devotion to me is the source of your concern for the poor. It is only as you understand me as the one rejected, as the supreme victim, that you will stay in touch with your empathy for victims. You will have plenty of time to do that. But in order to ensure that you will have the desire to do that, attend to me. Watch what is about to happen. Be present to the passion. And then the determination to minister to the poor will be a permanent feature of your awareness.’ It’s not as though Jesus is being cavalier about poverty.