What does God’s love smell like? Like honeysuckle on a warm spring day? Like a salty ocean breeze? Can God’s love also smell like a person who hasn’t bathed for days? For the people in the story in John 12, God’s love smells like their brother Lazarus, who has just been raised after four days in a tomb. Now his friends and loved ones are sharing a dinner in celebration and thanking Jesus, who has come out of hiding to see his friend Lazarus enjoying his new life.
A recent New Yorker article on Mary Magdalene, obviously written with an eye on her role as Jesus’ paramour in Dan Brown’s best-selling The Da Vinci Code, began by noting that “Brown is by no means the first to have suggested that Christ had a sex life—Martin Luther said it” (February 13-20).
Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb. Dark. First light. Dawn. A few minutes of extraordinary encounter. This scene at the tomb of Jesus bestows a supreme gift upon the beloved of God. Time and place and character unfold and then reveal a threshold through which the hearer of the word may enter. Here, as in an icon, you experience Mary’s transformation from desolation to animation, from inertia to action.
Each of the four Gospels tells about the woman who anoints Jesus while he is at table, and in each Gospel someone sharply rebukes her for her action. But Luke is unique: unlike event as told the other three Gospels, the act of anointing as told in Luke does not portend Jesus’ death. Instead, hospitality and table fellowship are the recurrent themes, and they are a clue to the meaning of this parable.
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