Sunday 13 March 2016

Bible Book:

John 12:1-8 Sunday 13 March 2016

Psalm: Psalm 126


In Arthur Conan Doyle's 'A Scandal in Bohemia', Dr John Watsonwrites of the enigmatic Irene Adler: "To Sherlock Holmes she isalwaysthewoman. I have seldom heard him mention her under any othername." 

The narrative of 'the woman' who caused outrage by anointingJesus' feet with costly perfume (worth around a year's wages for alabourer) appears in all four Gospels. But who was she? Accordingto Matthew (Matthew 26:6-13) and Mark (Mark14:3-9), she was simply "a woman". Luke (Luke7:36-50) paints a slightly more vivid picture, telling us thatshe was "a sinner", from which some have drawn the conclusion thather actions constituted a symbolic attempt to atone for hermisdeeds. Only John's Gospel tells us that 'the woman' had a name -Mary - and identifies her as the sister of Martha and Lazarus(whom, in the previous chapter, Jesus raised from the dead).John tells us that "Jesus loved Martha and her sister [Mary] andLazarus" (John 11:5). The difference between an anonymouswoman breaking into a dinner party to pour perfume on Jesus' feet -perhaps as an act of repentance - and one of Jesus' closest friendstenderly anointing him before his journey towards Jerusalem (and,as we now know, a brutal death) has led some to argue that thesemust be two separate events and two different women.

Not content with two, popular culture has added a third woman tothe mix. Paintings of Mary Magdalene frequently depict her with ajar of perfume, linking her to 'the woman' and her supposed sins(commentators and painters alike have greatly enjoyed imaginingwhat exactly these sins might have been). In fact, this Mary'sstory in the Bible is that of a woman, liberated from seven demons,and who supported Jesus throughout his ministry (Luke8:2-3), stood at the foot of the cross (John19:25) and (by some accounts) was the first to witness toJesus' resurrection (John20:1-18).

The story of 'the woman' is a reminder of the ease with whichstories can become blurred and distorted. But more importantly, itis a reminder of the enduring potency of an act of extravagantlove.

To Ponder

  • What do you think made this story so special that it found itsway (in one way or another) into all four Gospels?
  • Try searching online for paintings of Mary Magdalene. What doyou think these paintings are trying to tell us about Mary? Andwhat do you think they might be trying to tell us about Jesus (byassociation)?
  • How important is it to 'get at' the literal facts andhistorical figures behind each story?

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