After The Brokenness, based on John 12:1-8

Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

It all started with a broken treasure.

This familiar story from the gospel of John that marks the beginning of Jesus’ last week before his trial, death, and resurrection opens as he is enjoying a celebratory dinner with his disciples, Lazarus (who Jesus raised from the dead), and Lazarus’ sisters Mary and Martha.

The mood is broken with the sound of something else breaking – a jar of perfume that we are told cost nearly a year’s wages for a worker of that time.  And it wasn’t an accident!

Mary had purposefully broken the jar in order to wipe a pound of the precious ointment on Jesus’ feet with her hair!

Celebration turns to scolding as Judas chides Mary for what, on the surface, would seem to have been a rash and foolish act.  Judas notes what any mission-minded session would point out.  Such a valuable resource could have been used to alleviate much hunger.  Mary had broken the rules!

(Our gospel writer breaks another rule of storytelling by breaking into the narrative with an editorial comment regarding his sense of the real reason for Judas’ outrage.  Our narrator states parenthetically that Judas was a thief who cared more about the prospect of less money in his own purse than he did less money for the poor.)

Finally, Jesus breaks one of our primary assumptions by taking Mary’s side instead of Judas’! Jesus validates her seemingly impractical act, ending with the arguably out of character statement, “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

This year, I find myself engaging this passage through the lens of brokenness: broken treasure, broken rules and assumptions, broken narratives.

We find ourselves in the midst of a time strewn with so much brokenness, even when compared to three years ago when we last gathered around this text on this fifth Sunday in Lent.  Since then, the pandemic has broken many of the rhythms and norms we took for granted.  A contentious election has frayed or further fractured our sense of a common national identity.  The war in Ukraine and shootings on the streets of our neighborhoods have burst any perceived bubble of security around us.

All of this brokenness on the global scale has left in its wake another reality for many of us personally and for those we love – broken hearts.  And that is where the good news begins!

The gospel narrative that begins the story of Jesus’ final week of his journey to the cross reminds us that in order to find our way to the wholeness God seeks for us and our world, some things need to be broken!

Those things we idolize and value more than God need to be removed from the God-spot in our lives.  False narratives of who we are, or who our neighbor is, need to be broken so that we might live in loving relationship with all who share this planet with us as children of God.  Even the box we knowingly or unknowingly construct to contain our understanding of God needs to be broken in order to sense how God’s Spirit is moving in such a time and place as this.

The good news of the gospel is that once the hearts of stone we have sheltered out of fear or ignorance are broken, God is ready to replace them with hearts of flesh that will enable us to find our way back to God.

This is the promise that empowered the prodigal from last week’s lectionary passage to retrace his steps through the shame of confronting his past on his way back to his loving father

This is the impetus for Mary’s breaking of the jar of costly perfume in gratitude for Christ’s blessing on her life in this week’s story.

This is my prayer for us all as we journey with Jesus and have our hearts broken at the foot of the cross in the weeks ahead, so that we might also have our hearts burn as he walks alongside us again with resurrection power!  Thanks be to God!