Mary and Judas

Rev. Katherine G. Dougherty
Sermon Text: 

Fifth Sunday of Lent- Year C

April 7, 2019

John 12: 1-8

         Have you ever been invited to a social event or dinner party where you weren’t going to know a lot of the people there?  How did you feel before hand and were there any moments during the event when you just didn’t know what to say next?  People are so great! Just this week I paused for a moment at a shopping center, and just watched the people around me.  We all have our “things” we do – our funny, quirky habits we do when out in public. God must have so much fun creating each of us and watching us live out our lives.  People are just so great! 

         Back to the social event or dinner party…now if you’re an extrovert a public event where you don’t know folks may excite you. I have a friend who can walk into a room of strangers and within 20 minutes she can tell you the name of at least 90% of the folks there she can tell you who knows who…who is funny and she will have the cellphone number of at least 10 people…and if you give her another hour…she’ll best buds with at least 5 people, know the likes and dislikes of half the group, and be planning a lunch or dinner date with at least 5 other people.  She lights up a room and feeds off the energy of meeting people.  She is the true definition of a massive extrovert. 

         Now, if you’re more of an introvert or enjoy a small gathering of close friends - the idea of going to a social event or dinner party where you know hardly anyone - may make you sick to your stomach. I truly believe that this idea of extroverts and introverts is less about we are one or the other and more about being somewhere on continuum.  On the far side of extrovert is my friend I just described.  On the far end of introverts may be my friend, who lives in a beautiful little cottage tucked up in the Shenandoah mountains perfectly happy to read his books, listen to music, work around his house and see people on a case-by-case basis.  My guess is most of us fit somewhere in between.  So depending on where you place yourself on that continuum you may avoid dinner parties like the plague or you may rejoice in the invitation. 

         In today’s Gospel we are witnesses to a dinner party thousands   of years ago.  In gratitude for bringing their brother back to life, Martha, Mary, and joined by the-now-alive-Lazarus have Jesus over for dinner.  Here, in this brief pause before his entrance into Jerusalem and all that ensues there, Jesus experiences a bit of home life and family. Martha is busy attending to the details of the meal, and Lazarus sits quietly at the table.  We know from our Gospel accounts that another disciple is there – the writer of John tells us  that it is Judas.  As they sit, Mary comes over to Jesus and sitting at his feet, she begins to wash them.  She anoints his feet with nard – an amber-colored oil that was known to give off a beautiful aroma but was expensive.  The lovely fragrance fills the house as Mary proceeds to dry Jesus’ feet with her hair. 

         In this moment of gratitude and tenderness, Judas breaks the silence   as he loudly objects.  He disturbs the graciousness of Mary’s actions by accusing her of wasting the oil.  He argues that the money spent on this jar of nard – three hundred denarii – the equivalence of one year’s earnings for a laborer in that day and time – should have been given to the poor. Funny how Judas is suddenly concerned for the poor.  See, Judas was responsible for carrying what was called the “common purse,” or  the money the group had.  It is reported that Judas helped himself to the money in that common purse often, for he was a thief.  His concern may have been less about the poor and more about his desire to have some of Mary’s money. 

         As we walk into this last week of Lent and head into Holy Week, the most sacred time of our Christian faith, Mary and Judas offer us a valuable thought to ponder and to carry with us.  At this dinner are some of those who will accompany Jesus on his journey to the cross – Mary, a faithful disciple  who devotes herself and all that she has to Jesus and  - Judas, an unfaithful disciple who steals money from the common purse and betrays Jesus in the end. Their inclusion in this story of Jesus’ last days with us speaks a great deal about the meaning of the cross and the inclusive nature of God’s grace.

         Both Mary and Judas were disciples of Jesus.  Both had heard his message of love, and both had seen his acts of healing and inclusion of all. In this moment, Mary engages in an extravagant act of hospitality…of care…and of devotion.  But Mary, though surely just as frightened and scared of what   was to come as the others were, anointed Jesus’ body  as if on  the day of his burial. Overcoming her emotions, she was able to acknowledge her understanding of his coming death while he was still alive  to experience her love.[1]  With her very costly nard, she gently washes and cares for this man, who will soon give fully to us all, by surrendering himself to the abuse and torture of those who fear him and by his very costly death.   Mary draws our attention not to herself but to the one she anoints. 

         Judas also plays an important a role at that dinner party and in Jesus’ walk to Jerusalem and to his death.  As we once again retell the story of Jesus’ journey to the cross, we sit as witnesses to Judas’ struggle with his actions of the past and his choices of the future. Though Judas has seen and heard what Mary and the other disciples have, he seems unable to let go of his worldly desire for more and unable to trust in Jesus’ teachings.  

         We, as Christian disciples, are neither Mary nor Judas but quite possibly a combination of both. Within us all may live both the loving, trusting, and gentle Mary and the conflicted, scarcity-driven Judas torn  between embracing the love of God and being driven by his earthly desires.

         It is thought that most of us embody both the light and darkness of this world.  Throughout time human history and art and literature and poetry  have reflected  this duality of the human spirit.  Mary and Judas simply offer us two more tangible examples of how within us may live a deep desire for love and a pulling force that draws us away from that love.

         What we can take home from this dinner party as we approach Holy Week is that the grace of Jesus Christ includes both Mary and Judas.  Let me say that again…the grace of Jesus Christ includes BOTH Mary and Judas.  

         The grace, offered to us by Jesus, embraces both the faithful, gentle, generous parts of us and the unfaithful, doubting, worldly-driven parts of us.  Jesus loved both Mary and Judas.  Jesus died for both Mary and Judas.  

         Both…Mary and Judas…and us as well…are included within the bright, loving, transformational light that the cross generates upon a dark world![2]


[1] Jackson, The Rev. Dr. Micah, a reflection from Practicing Forgiveness Will All Your Heart, Souls, Strength, and Mind, Living Compass Seasonal Resource, 4.07.2019.

[2] George W. Stroup, Feasting on the Word Commentary for Year C, Lent 5, 2009.

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