A short reflection for each day of Holy Week
When the woman/the sinner/Mary sister of Martha sat down before Christ to anoint his head/feet with perfume, his followers chastised her for wasting precious resources, for being over-emotional and overly-familiar with Jesus.
And, sure, she did bathe his feet with her tears and wipe them with her hair, which is pretty damn intimate, but you have to wonder why this made Jesus’s followers so uncomfortable.
If you take the Gospel writer John at his word then the woman was Mary, and this was not the first time she was called out for wanting to be closer to Jesus. In fact, the only other mention we get of her is when Jesus visited the sisters at their home in Bethany, and Martha reprimanded Mary for sitting at his feet and listening to his teaching rather than helping with the housework that accompanies having a guest of such repute.
One can hardly blame Martha for harping on her sister. It’s easy to imagine her exasperated expression as she begs for help. Still, Mary sat in the privileged seat, the same space where Rabbinical students would sit as they listened and learned from their mentors and teachers.
Here Jesus had the opportunity to reinforce the woman’s place, to discourage her from learning spiritual matters and send her back to her domestic duties. How fascinating, then, that Christ instead affirmed Mary in her pursuits, assured her she had found her proper place.
So come passion week, the last few days of Jesus’s life, it is entirely unsurprising to again find Mary at the feet of Christ, the student’s seat. Only this time she has come to bless him, to demonstrate her love and gratitude to her teacher and Lord.
This time it is the disciples’ turn to shun the God-seeker for her unseemly devotion. And again Jesus encourages her by silencing the critical voices.
Twice she sought intimacy with God, twice she was discouraged, and twice Jesus said, “no, this is my daughter. Do not keep her from me.”
Unfortunately the pattern demonstrated by Martha and the disciples is not unfamiliar, even today. In fact, if we as a people are great at anything it's inventing reasons to keep certain people at a distance, out of our clubs, our homes, our lives, even our churches.
And while these are all tragic in their own right, as damaged relationship is inherently fracturing to the human soul, it especially grieves my heart when I witness or experience alienation taking place within church communities. For when we tell people they can only find God inside our churches, but then drive them out, either explicitly or by implicit hate and bigotry, we are in a way denying them God.
The thing is, though, we know how Jesus responds when his followers try to keep the crowds away, to keep him pure and untarnished by the huddled masses. Whether it be regarding Mary, the sinner, the nameless woman, the lepers, the prostitutes, the gamblers, liars, taxmen, the little children Christ’s message is the same: “let them come to me. Do not prevent them from meeting me, from knowing me, from sharing life with me.”
This Holy Monday let us not hinder others from coming to God.