Occasional thoughts from a young adult reveling in the messiness of life.
For the final installment of the “Lent through Lens” series, we’ll be examining John 12:1-8. As always, we’ll start with the reading and then dive into my reflection.
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 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. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
We’re already to Thursday of Holy Week, so I’ll just apologize for the lateness of this post and say that the chances and changes of this last week and a half have just been a little more than I could handle. However, I was actually the “featured” presenter during our last Sunday session for Lent through Lens, so I had to take a few more pictures than usual.
At first, I struggled with this Gospel passage and regretted signing up to be the featured presenter for this class. I read the passage and sat with it many times over and over again. Two days before my pictures were due, and I hadn’t snapped a single one. That is, until I came across this sign.
The passage begins with time: “Six days before the passover…”. Time was running short. Jesus’ earthly ministry was almost over. The immediacy of the moment sunk in to me. Jesus would soon die.
Time was running short for me on this assignment, too, and on the day my pictures were due, I booked it over to an area of town where I knew I could park and walk around to a variety of settings. From the moment I parked, I knew I had come to the right place.
At first, I thought of how delicate Mary’s touch must have been as she anointed Christ’s feet with the perfume. So when I came upon a bed of tulips, I stopped and stared until one stood out. With a single petal out of place, this flower looked like it was bowing, much like Mary bowed at his feet.
Simultaneously, it had a strength and beauty and stature that I would expect of Mary. Add in the fact that I was able to photograph it against a very dark and stark background.
It summed up the image I see of Mary in this passage: a brightness against the dark foreshadowing of what was to come.
The one part of this Gospel passage that I never quite understood was why the heck Mary wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair. It just seemed…odd. After much reading, I learned that the only time women were supposed to let their hair down was when they were having “relations” with their husbands. Before you take this one way too far in that direction, the symbolism here was that it was a wonderfully intimate gesture, an act of passionate love in the most servant-like way. So when I saw these reeds blowing with the wind kissed by the setting sun, I thought of the movement of her hair across his feet.
From the field of reeds, I was struck by the contrast of this next image. Against the backdrop of a beautiful sunset was the harsh lines of barbed wire atop a fence. Judas, I thought. Throughout a beautiful story of Mary’s love and devotion to Jesus, we have the audacity of the one who would ultimately turn Jesus over to his death. And that’s what this image represents to me. In the passage, the writer says three harsh things about Judas:
1. He was about to betray Jesus.
2. He was a thief.
3. He didn’t care about the poor.
My father, in encouraging me in my writing as a youth, always challenged me to think differently about the phrases I used. One lesson that has been constant is this: darkness does not fall, as many writers commonly portray. Darkness rises.
In this passage, we see that darkness rising in the mentions of Judas’ impending betrayal of Jesus. In this image, we see that darkness rising as well, from the deep valleys of the landscape. It’s just a few short minutes before that darkness chases away the last of the light. But what I loved about this scene was not the engulfing darkness…it was the reflection of the light in the puddle. Even when surrounded by darkness, the light prevails. For me, that’s what Jesus is and what Jesus does.
He is the light in the darkest of places.
The last image says so much about what this passage means to me. As Jesus neared his death, he stopped talking in parables so much and started using clear, direct language. His meaning was not left for interpretation; it was black and white. In short, the takeaway was clear. There’s no parable of the fig tree and no prodigal son.
This passage ends with “You will always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.” The takeaway was clear.
Overall, what I loved about this passage after wrestling with it for several days were the contrasts that we see. It set the goodness of Mary against the evil of Judas; it took Jesus from being a storyteller to a clear communicator. It had lightness and darkness. It was refreshing yet foreboding.
And it was the perfect way to end this Lent through Lens series.