New life comes through shared healing actions
Meals are important. When we eat 'take-away' food on a tray in front of the television, they may seem boring and only something
we do to sustain the life of our physical bodies. We forget about
nature who provides this food and that a meal is a sharing between us and plants or animals, and best also shared with family or friends.
If we take notice of the many TV cooking programs that seem to have burgeoned recently, it matters not only what sort of food we are eating, but the way it is presented, what it looks like, and even how it tastes or smells. The aroma from meat cooking on the barbecue, or the smell of a ripe mango before we bite into it can excite and delight us. We are prepared to eat the offerings of nature and enjoy them thoroughly. If we anticipate food with pleasure, we are told that the benefit of the food for our bodies is increased.
Today's gospel reading is about a meal at Bethany, a village outside of Jerusalem, where Jesus and his disciples ate together in the home of their friends Martha, Lazarus and Mary. It was a dinner in Jesus' honour, held 6 days before that critical Passover when Jesus was to die. Curious people looked on. They wanted to see Lazarus, a man who had returned from the dead.
We can picture the scene. Lazarus, Jesus and his disciples reclining at the table, and enjoying the food Martha is serving. Then something unexpected happens. Mary, Martha's sister, enters with a container of expensive perfumed ointment.
There are many stories in the gospels of Jesus healing people: restoring sight to the blind, straightening the back of a woman bent over, cleansing lepers and so on. Now we have the reverse occurring. Jesus is the one in need and is to receive healing and
strengthening from the gift of nature, and the touch of Mary's hands. Mary opens her jar of ointment, half a litre of it, and pours it over Jesus' feet. She massages his feet with the ointment and then wipes them with her hair. The whole house we are told is filled with the fragrance of the perfume. Everyone present, even the onlookers, smelt it and were drawn into the healing event.
Suddenly the focus on this tender action is broken. Judas was angry. In a strident voice he complained. He saw Mary's act only as a waste of money. "Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?" he asked. But this was not the time for such a question. Jesus immediately defended Mary and praised what she had done.
Nature had fed Jesus through his life and uplifted him when he walked alone in the hills near Nazareth or by the sea of Galilee. Now its perfume and penetrating oil was being used to assist him for his journey through suffering and death.
Mary took nature's gift and combined it with her own gift of touch. We too will have experienced the healing of the touch of friends at sad moments of our lives, when we have heard bad news, suffered great pain, or grieved the loss of loved ones. At these times the people we love hold us and we hold them. They might gently rub us to comfort us. Mary used physical touch to convey comfort and love to her friend.
Jesus, the woman and nature are brought together in this act. They are kin, as we are too with one another and nature. We find this closeness between Jesus, women and nature repeated in the story of Jesus' passion when it is earth in the garden of Gethsemane that comforts and supports him as he lies on the ground and prays in his distress. It is the women who stand and watch him die on the cross, and when Jesus dies we are told in Matthew's gospel of an earthquake—the response of earth.
At this time of the year the harvest of summer is coming to an end. Most of our tomato plants have given us of their fruit and are now dying. The pumpkin vines too are coming to the end of their lives. My corn gave us some tasty sweet cobs but now their stalks are on the compost heap. This left the ground empty for a brief time, but a few days ago I planted some small cauliflower and broccoli seedlings which are now starting to grow. New life is beginning again.
In the first lesson this morning we heard from Isaiah that God is about to do a new thing, there will be 'rivers in the desert'. Animals and people will praise God together. At present water is flowing through our inland desert country, bringing new life for animals, plants and farmers. We have experienced drought but hope is coming. It is like looking forward to a resurrection life after servitude in Egypt, exile in Babylon, and the dead body of Jesus in the tomb.
The gospel reading was full of tender love and compassion towards the other. It was also haunted by sadness before the jarring note introduced by Judas. But in the psalm we were reminded how sorrow can turn into joy. How for us sadness and the healing action given to Jesus can lead on to the joy of the resurrection, a resurrection that cannot be stopped by Judas.
As we give thanks today for the food nature provides for us, there is also a shadow of sadness. We were reminded by Archbishop Desmond Tutu at Copenhagen, that while climate change is left unchecked by the nations of the world, "rich and poor, we sink and swim together".
We now enter the last two weeks of our journey through Lent and move inexorably with Jesus towards Good Friday. We are all, humans and non-humans, sharers in suffering, but we also have the gift and possibility to reach out in healing to one another and emerge together with Jesus into new resurrection life. This is a life imaged in the Scriptures as a glorious shared feast of abundant food with Christ in God. It is a feast foreshadowed here every Sunday in which we and nature are involved in the giving and receiving of Christ's body in the eucharist, the thanksgiving feast.