Tuesday, 3 April 2012

The Kenosis of Mary




            Mary glimpsed something amazing. Our gospel reading tonight isn't the first time Mary has fallen at Jesus' feet. In the previous chapter Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. There we met a grief-stricken Mary. In John 11 we read 32 "When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.""  having lost her brother, Mary wept at the feet of Jesus, and Jesus wept with her. Many here know the emotions Mary felt. She cared for  her brother, Lazarus, as his illness progressed. At some point they realized that Lazarus was not going to recover. They felt helpless- their cures, their efforts weren't enough.  They called for Jesus hoping he could help, but he didn't come. Lazarus died and they entered into grief. Mary was 4 days into her grief when she fell at Jesus' feet.   

            When we meet Mary in the next chapter she is in an unbelievable situation. She is at a banquet. She is once again eating with her brother, who is alive, and Jesus who brought him back to life. What would you do? How could you say, "thank you". How could you possibly thank someone like Jesus?

            Mary got a glimpse of who Jesus is. She saw that he is not just a carpenter. He is not just the man she has known as a family friend. He is more. Mary saw Jesus clearly when he gave her her brother back. In that moment she caught a glimpse of God.

            How do you respond? What can you say? what can you do? In the hymn "When I survey the wondrous cross" (Isaac Waats) there is a line I love, "Were the whole realm of nature mine, That were an offering far too small". What do you offer God that is not already his? In our offerings we often pray a verse from 1st Chronicles ch 29- "all things come from you, and of your own have we given you". We cannot give God anything that is not already his.

            So Mary contemplates... She asks herself, "how do I respond? How can I respond to a man that has brought my brother back to life? How do I respond to a man that has shown me God in himself?"      

            Mary got a glimpse of who Jesus really is. She had wet Jesus' feet with her tears and now she soaks his feet with expensive perfume- and she wipes them with her hair- hair she usually kept covered out of modesty. It is incredibly intimate and incredibly inappropriate to those who haven't glimpsed the reality Mary has.

            Mary poured perfume on Jesus feet worth $40,000 or $50,000- a year's wage. I wonder if she used this perfume to anoint Lazarus' dead body. Perhaps it was her savings? Perhaps it was her dowry? Maybe it doesn't even matter how much it's worth. It was the best. And maybe that's the point. Oscar Wilde once said a "cynic is someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing". We think so much in terms of money. That is Judas in our story.

            Judas is our voice here. Judas heaps our judgement on Mary. Judas speaks out of our discomfort and cynicism. What a waste. How inappropriate. But, that is that part of us that hasn't seen what Mary has. It is sad that Judas doesn't see it. Better to balance the books than spend time in prayer. Better to make money for the poor than spend time in church in Sunday. [God is present in, but not limited to the poor. It is out of worship that we find ourselves and find God in the poor.] 

            Mary gives everything to Jesus because she sees him clearly. The perfume poured out is only a symbol of Mary pouring herself out in love to Jesus. I'm sure Mary even felt that wasn't enough- even that wasn't enough to show the love and devotion that Jesus deserved.

            I didn't finish the verse I quoted from the Hymn, "When I survey the wondrous cross". It goes "Were the whole realm of nature mine, That were an offering far too small; Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all." Mary poured herself out to Jesus. This act was Mary's Kenosis. Kenosis is a Greek word for emptying. Mary poured herself out. She gave everything to Jesus in loving worship. She held nothing back. 

            Mary offered everything to Jesus, who was God's kenosis. The Son of God emptied himself as Mary poured out her perfume. 

            Paul writes in Philippians 2,

[The Son] made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!        

            This is God's Kenosis- his self-emptying.  Mary poured her perfume on the one who left his heavenly riches to be poor among us.  Jesus sees her action as pointing to his coming death- the ultimate act of God's self-emptying. She is anointing him for his burial.

            The fragrance of the perfume Mary poured out on Jesus' feet, offered in worship, filled the whole house. The fragrance of the outpoured life of the Son of God has filled the whole world. And just as Mary smelled of the perfume because of her act of worship, so we have the fragrance of God's outpouring. Paul says in 2 Cor ch 2:15 "For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved..."  

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