1st Scripture Readings: 1 Kings 21: 1-10, 15-21a & Psalm 5
Hymn # 299 VU “Teach Me God to Wonder”
Gospel Reading: Luke 7: 36 – 8:3
We often talk about something we call “The Way of Jesus”. I wonder what we understand by that – what does it mean to each of us? To some it might mean eternal salvation by believing in Jesus Christ and having repented of our sins. To some it might mean he died for our sins, so we are all saved. To others it might mean right action: living according to the teachings of Jesus as closely as we can follow them. To some it might mean a combination of some or all of the above examples. And to some it might mean something entirely different.
What we know for sure, is that we are all in this room because of Jesus, as Lois Wilson famously said when she became the first woman Moderator of this United Church of ours.
And Mary Magdalene (traditionally believed to be the woman who anointed Jesus) went to that dinner, probably an all-male affair, because she knew Jesus would be there.
I want you to close your eyes and picture this: a beautiful young woman, her hair long and hanging loose, tears running down her face, enters this gathering of powerful men, goes straight to Jesus, stands by his feet and pours expensive perfume on them, and then, sobbing heart-wrenching sobs, she washes his feet with her tears, and wipes them dry with her long hair. Picture the men – all reclining on their couches as Jesus is, as was the custom, watching this utterly shameful display of emotion and intimacy. Imagine the tittering and disapproving looks from the women in the kitchen, and those serving the food – their hair carefully and modestly tied up and covered by a scarf. Probably not even eye contact in public with men, let alone this display of physical love, so inappropriate and unwelcome in this setting.
And yet – Jesus defends her actions in this reading from Luke, comparing her expressions of love and gratitude and respect with the lack of proper hospitality from his host – no water to wash his feet, no kiss of welcome, no anointing with perfume – all of which was customary for a respected and honoured guest, and none of which this Pharisee accorded to Jesus. “ Who loves more?” Jesus asks.
Yes, Mary was there because of Jesus. He says that her sins or demons were many, and she is grateful to him for the healing and possibly exorcism that he has given her. She has shown him great love, Jesus says, and for this her sins are forgiven her.
She has shown him great love, she has symbolically and literally poured herself out for him. And not just because he has healed her – but as we read in the Gospel of John, chapter 12, Jesus says she bought this expensive perfume and saved it for this day – for his burial. “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” Somehow Mary knew that he was soon to die – and she, a woman, has anointed him for his end. (We might remember here that Christ is not Jesus’ last name – Christ means “the anointed one”.)
Pouring yourself out for love is called KENOSIS. “To give your life for a friend” is kenosis. To nurse a loved one thru terminal illness right to the end is kenosis. To give your life to a cause such as Mother Theresa did for the poor in India, that is kenosis.
All four gospels have a version of the “Anointing at Bethany”. All four describe a woman pouring herself out in love for Jesus. Is this starting to sound a bit like it might actually be a spiritual path – is this perhaps an example of “the Way of Jesus”?
Is it possible that human love can actually be a mystical path to God and to the realization of the Kingdom? We say that God is love, don’t we? We also know that the Prime Commandment is “Love one another as I have loved you.” Or “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself.” Isn’t Jesus telling us, hasn’t he been telling us for over 2000 years now, that his Way is the Way of Love? And if we fully embody that Love, are we not becoming more and more like him – more and more Christ-like?
So Mary loves much, because she has been healed and forgiven of much, this gospel says. Do you wonder, as I do, how and when did this happen? I believe that Jesus the Healer and exorcist had probably been working with Mary Magdalene, who came to him as a student, as a seeker looking for his help, for some time. As he helped her to face the truth about herself, her wounds and her enslavement, she became more and more free, and more and more whole. There is a little story the Hawaiian spiritual teachers tell their students. I will share it with you now.
The Crystal Bowl Story.
Every child is born with a crystal bowl of pure Light within their abdomen. As the child grows, things happen to them. Each time a bad thing happens to the child a black stone falls into the crystal bowl, displacing some of the Light. By the time the child reaches adulthood, the bowl is filled with black stones and there is very little light inside. This manifests in illness, depression, lack of motivation, unhappiness and despair.
A process of clearing the stones is necessary in order to re-establish health and wholeness to the person.
Most of us are not conscious of the dark stones that are shaping our lives and limiting our futures. A process of healing is necessary to break the chains of anger, resentment, hatred and unforgiveness that bind us and keep us slaves to our emotional reactions.
Mary was cleared of seven demons our scriptures tell us. I believe these demons are analogous to the dark stones or the chains that bind us, and to which we are often unconscious and in denial. The love of Jesus, and the skills he had as a healer and exorcist were necessary to bring Mary back to health and wholeness.
Which brings us to the question of “what is sin?” To sin is to “miss the mark” to not get it right. None of us has been able to avoid “missing the mark” on occasion. If we were living in pure love, in the heart of Christ, we would not sin. But most of us are not there yet, or are only there for moments at a time.
The highest expression of Divine Love for many of us is the love we have for our partner, and our families. When we grow in the love of another, then we are also growing in spiritual love. As the Beloved becomes more important than the Self, we are entering the territory of Kenosis. Kenosis, remember, is the pouring out of self-giving love.
And self-giving love is not all hearts and flowers, is it? Relationships with other imperfect humans is not always easy, and often demands of us that we face something not so healthy in ourselves, or calls us to become greater than we were before. Love is a crucible – a fire of great heat. The greater the heat, the more potential for growth and healing. Sometimes we have to dig very deeply into ourselves to find resources of strength, compassion and forgiveness we didn’t know we had.
READ: The Gift of the Magi (summary)
The Way of Jesus, the path of Love, brings us everything Jesus promised. It brings us Peace, it brings us freedom, it brings us abundant life and it brings us into the heart of Christ – our home for all eternity. But we must be willing to do the work – to become responsible for seeking our own healing, and to facing our own demons. And we must do it all with certain knowledge that Love is the only Way – that nothing less will suffice, and that the Spirit of God is always with us to lend a hand, support and guide us as we walk that Way of Jesus.
Hymn # 129 VU “Said Judas to Mary”