Today’s Gospel reading provides us a number of different options. We could go with the traditional reading of this passage and celebrate the spiritual insight of Mary into the future destiny of Jesus, we could discuss the seemingly insensitive response of Judas or, perhaps, we could comment on the presence of Lazarus and the fascination people had with his remarkable story.
Perhaps there is another.
Mary comes with a bottle of expensive perfume into a room where the disciples were and where her recently resurrected brother, Lazarus sat. She takes the perfume and washes Jesus feet, wiping them with her hair. What an extraordinary intimate act. What an extraordinary affirmation of the ordinariness of Jesus.
Mary doesn’t kiss Jesus, touch his head or embrace him. She touches that which is in direct contact with the earth and washes them, even though under hospitality protocol his feet would have been washed on arrival.
Mary affirms the earthiness of Jesus in the presence of her brother who had been raised from the earth to live again.
This affirmation of one of the most basic elements of life, the soil, and the understanding that we are born out of the earth and return to it is a powerful reminder to us of our impermanence.
Janet Hunt asks “… if by anointing his feet, Mary is also recognising this — that in his living, Jesus was as ‘grounded’ as the rest of us.”
This is the Jesus who was born out of the soil embodied by his mother and who has spent his brief life walking on and in the soil of his local environment. This is the Jesus whose life vibrates with the history of the country he walks upon. This is a Jesus whose body has been in dwelt by the thousands of years history, trauma and hope returned to the soil in the lives of all who had gone before him.
This is a grounded Jesus who does not slip away into an other worldly or heavenly escape but stays firmly on the land out of and into which he was born. He carries in his body this country and no amount of washing or cleansing by water or perfume will extinguish his humanity, his essential being.
In many ways Jesus is a geo-spiritual person, in other words his spirituality comes alive out of the place, time and context into which he was born. He remembers heaven, not as a place out there to escape to, but as the fulfilment of his relationship with the other as birth giver and place sharer. He remembers that he doesn’t go there but will continue to remain firmly grounded here through the Spirit, his spirit, after all this is over.
Washing his feet only diffuses the dirt, it does not remove it.
Mary’s use of perfume, not water, is perhaps a nod to this idea. These feet covered in dust everyday are connected to a person and a heart indelibly impregnated with the dirt of the human condition, a man who has not forgotten where he comes from. In some ways this idea finds expression in Jesus’ comment about the poor.
These comments are not a dismissal of the need to care for the poor but a plea for understanding that the poor are a product of how we understand the earth, not as a place of birth and inclusion, but as place of production and exclusion. It is perhaps about how we have objectified creation and left behind those who have been born out of it.
In this last week I gave some money to a homeless person to buy food. It was an interesting discussion. This very articulate person was commenting that she has to be grateful for whatever the agencies give her, even if it is not suitable or what she needs or wants. She said she often has to take it but then takes it and leaves at another agency because she can’t use it. She has no agency to address her needs but has to accept charity without question. I gave her money and she said I should take it and go with her to buy the food. My reply was, “No, I trust you. I don’t need to go with you. You use it to get what you want.”
This is how we also use the earth on which we live. We tell it what it needs or what we want from it without listening to what it and we need. Jesus is not interested in the money here and it is the Gospel writer that accuses Judas, not Jesus. Judas was just expressing the prevailing attitude of the disciples and society, and the writer a need to get a villain into play. Jesus understands the value of being deeply and truly human which Mary anoints with the oil. She is not anointing a blood stained sacrifice as that idea was foreign to her and the religious thought of the day. She is not anointing a resurrected Christ because that too was unknown to her. Nor was she recognising any of the other ideas about Jesus which became the norm after his death.
She was anointing this deeply human man who was so united with life he could bring her brother back. This is not a radical other worldly act, but the act of a person so deeply in tune with our essential self that he can use the ordinariness of existence to forestall death and decay.
Perhaps here is a key for the regeneration of our Church and our planet. We do not need more theo-physically spiritual or intellectually educated people to make the changes necessary. We need deeply grounded people who are able to listen, hear and reflect on what is already here without intervening and driving change. We need people who are comfortable in creation, be it the created world or the created body of Christ, the church, so comfortable that they are able to journey with the natural processes for regeneration without despair or panic.
Perhaps like Mary, Jesus and Lazarus we are to embrace the dirt between our toes, the dirt that gave us birth, the dirt that holds the wisdom of all ages and simply put one foot in front of the other trusting, in the kindness of God’s created world and body to take it further down the road.
God who rejoiced in the humanity of Jesus, whose feet were anointed by perfume and Mary’s hair, enrich our humanity with your touch so we may rejoice in our ordinariness and share his humility with others, freeing us and them from the need to be more, just to be enough. We ask this through Jesus your Christ of the dusty road. Amen