In Isaiah 43 (part of what scholars refer to as 2nd Isaiah) the prophet gives a comforting word to the exiles in Babylon. Isaiah says that God is about to do ‘something new.’ The prophet says that God will “make a way in the wilderness” and will provide “rivers in the dessert.” The wild animals will praise the Lord for this provision, and the “chosen people” will be given a drink. As we enter the final week of Lent the promise of water in the dessert is music to our ears.
Psalm 126 recalls a time when the fortunes of Israel were restored. This may suggest that the psalm was written after the exile some time in the early sixth century. Whatever the case the Psalm provides a wonderful response to our Hebrew Bible reading in that the prophetic promise of Isaiah 43 has now been realized and the joy of the people bubbles forth in “shouts of joy.” The Psalmist describes the memorable feeling that the people had at the time of their deliverance. The psalmist then proclaims his/her desire that others
experience such redemption, “May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.”
In our epistle lection Paul reminds his readers of his impeccable religious credentials: “circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” Yet even with this impressive resume Paul does not rely on his own ‘confidence in the flesh.’ Instead he “regards them [his accomplishments] as rubbish” that he might not have his own righteousness but have the righteousness of Christ. It is the righteousness of Christ that Paul believes leads to sharing in the suffering and death of Jesus, and then also in his resurrection.
In our gospel lection Mary annoints Jesus’s feet with costly perfume and then wipes them dry with her hair. Judas Iscariot objected citing as his reason for objecting that the perfume could have been sold and used to feed the poor. The narrator of the gospel interjects at this point and offers a more sinister reason for Judas’ objection. Apparently Judas was stealing from the common purse, and he saw in the perfume a chance to boost the monies available for his pilfering. Jesus condemns Judas’ comments however telling him that Mary bought the perfume for the day of Jesus burial, alluding to his coming death, and that the poor would always be present with them but Jesus himself would not always be present. It should not be overlooked in this passage that the actions of Mary prefigure the actions of Christ who will adourn a towel and wash the feet of his disciples in the very next chapter of the gospel of John. It should also not be overlooked that the announcement of the nearness of Jesus’ death in Mary’s annointing has a special significance for John. Jesus is nearing the end of his time on earth and is close to accomplishing the redemption of humanity–the perfume of pure nard is a fitting announcement for this momentus event.
Celebration of Worship
As we enter the last week of Lent we hear the comforting words of 2nd Isaiah to the exiles in Babylon. God is preparing a way in the dessert. As we enter the last week of Lent we witness the beautiful anointing of the Lord’s feet that points to Jesus’ coming departure.
As we share in the story of the Christ we have hope as does the apostle Paul in sharing in the coming suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ. It is hope in the “righteousness of Christ” that encourages us, not hope in ourselves. We do not anoint ourselves. We annoint the feet of Jesus and wash his feet with our hair. Mary particpates in the work of Jesus that he will command his disciples in the next chapter of John. As you prepare your hearts, minds, prayers, hymns, and thoughts for worship consider our call to participate in the suffering and death of Jesus, in hopes that we might participate in his resurrection.