Saturday, March 24, 2007

Jesus Anointed for Burial

The Gospel reading for tomorrow, the Sunday before Palm Sunday, is Jesus' anointing at Bethany, as told by John the Evangelist. The story of a woman anointing (pouring oil on) Jesus, either on his head or his feet, occurs in all four Gospels. That means all four found it pertinent to the basic story of Jesus' mission on earth.

As is usual when the four Gospel writers tell the same story, each has his own narrative purpose, so each tells the story somewhat differently. Usually, in this case, the stories as told by Matthew, Mark, and Luke would be most similar to each other, and John's version would differ from the others. Interestingly, this time it seems to me that John's is most like Matthew's and Mark's, while Luke's is significantly different. These are the passages:

John 12:1-11 (the lectionary specifies only 1-8, but I want to include vss. 9-11 for comparison to the others

Matthew 26:6-16

Mark 14:3-11

Luke 7:36-50

Some general observations and comparisons:

Location: In John, Matthew, and Mark, Jesus is in Bethany, a city about 8 miles from Jerusalem, in Judea. In Luke, although this passage doesn't mention the location, it occurs in a series of stories in Jesus' ministry in Galilee.

Time: In John, Matthew, and Mark, the incident occurs in relation to Holy Week (the week between Palm Sunday and Easter; it includes Maundy Thursday and Good Friday). John says it is "six days before Passover," and the next day is his triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday). In Matthew, it is during Holy Week. The triumphal entry has already happened, and since then Jesus has been teaching in Jerusalem. Mark's time frame is like Matthew's. In Luke, it is during Jesus' teaching ministry, some time before he went to Jerusalem to go to the cross.

Household: I had thought that John said Jesus was at the home of the siblings Lazarus, Martha, and Mary, but I see that although it says Jesus is in their town, John does not necessarily specify whose home, just that "a dinner was given in Jesus' honor." Martha helps serve, but she could do that at someone else's house. Matthew and Mark both say that Jesus is at the home of a man named Simon the Leper. Luke says that Jesus is visiting a Pharisee (a highly respected scholar and practitioner of Jewish traditions), and Jesus addresses his host as Simon.

The woman: John identifies the woman as Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha; this Mary we commonly call Mary of Bethany to differentiate her from other women named Mary mentioned in the Gospels (including Mary the mother of Jesus, and Mary of Magdela). Matthew and Mark do not name the woman. Luke tells of a woman who had led a sinful life.

The anointing: In John, Mary pours the oil on Jesus' feet and wipes his feet with her hair. In Matthew and Mark, the woman pours the oil on Jesus' head. In Luke, the woman pours perfume on Jesus' feet (vs. 46), but also washes his feet with her tears and wipes them with her hair.

The bystanders' response: In John, Matthew, and Mark, it is the disciples and/or Judas who comment, and their remarks are about the cost of the oil/perfume. They say that the oil was wasted on Jesus, that it should have been sold, as it was very valuable, and the money given to the poor. In Luke, it is Simon the Pharisee who responds, and he simply thinks to himself that if Jesus were really a prophet, he would know what kind of woman was touching him; presumably if he did know, he would reject her touch.

Jesus' remarks: In John, Matthew, and Mark, Jesus identifies the oil/perfume as preparation for his burial, which in these narratives is only days away. In Matthew and Mark, he praises her act as "a beautiful thing" she did to him and prophesies that wherever Christ's followers preach the gospel, they will also tell the story of this act. Finally, in John, Matthew, and Mark, he makes his famous comment, "The poor you will always have with you," with the less often quoted parallel remark, "but you will not always have me." In Luke, Jesus favorably compares the sinful woman, with her sincere repentance, to his upright but inhospitable host (not providing water to wash Jesus' feet, not anointing him, not kissing him), and he ties the whole event to the woman receiving forgiveness for that past sinful life. This conversation includes another fairly well-known saying, "Her many sins have been forgiven--for she loved much." In this case, the anointing is not preparation for burial, but an act of gratitude and love.

Result: In John, certain leaders plot Jesus' death. In Mark and Matthew, Judas approaches the leaders, offering to betray Jesus. Although John does not mention Judas' betrayal at this point, he does focus on Judas during the disciples' criticism of the woman, and John further accuses Judas of theft. In Luke, the people ask each other who Jesus is, who forgives sin. This could be awe or amazement at his graciousness, or it could be offence at his assumption of authority. Afterwards, Jesus continues his itinerant preaching.

More thoughts in the next post.

Prating Bear

Every once in a while I see a commercial for a teddy bear that accepts CDs, or something similar, and "reads" stories to children. Well, okay. It has a fakey baby voice. Oh, well. At a certain point, the bear says to a child, "You can do anything!" Ugh. Then a woman's voice says, "I like the little lesson in every story." Uh oh. Then the bear sings to a child, "Believe in yourself!" Barf.

I wish I was a mom, so I could vow never to allow my child access to such programming toward insipidity. As it is, I can only resolve that I would never buy one for a nephew or niece (who are too old for it anyway), or their children.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Losing Cathy Seipp

Update: Cathy Seipp died yesterday, March 21. Rest in peace.

One of my two favorite bloggers, Cathy Seipp, is apparently in her final days. She is dying of lung cancer; she was not a smoker but one of the few who get it anyway. Her blog, Cathy's World, is one of the two I'll check every day. (The other is James Lileks' Bleat.) She was so smart and funny and plain spoken. Her daughter, a freshman in college, posted on Cathy's blog that Cathy has reached a point of "trying to keep her comfortable" (my own family went through that last autumn with my brother), with the prediction that she has only a day or two left. I'm sorry for Maia to endure such a loss at that age.

Cathy Seipp would not know who I am. Although she had a clique of devoted commenters, I only posted a comment twice, if I recall, and then only under my initials. But I enjoyed her company. I hope her end comes peacefully, and that her daughter, father, and friends find comfort.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Not a morning person

I've had a bad cold for the last five days. Last week, I closed the store for two days to stay home and rest. I came back to work not because I was well but because I didn't want to keep the store closed any longer. Because of my cold, when I woke up this morning I had a sinus headache and a dry, sore throat, as well as a sense of unfinished work hanging over me. I croaked at my dog, "I am not looking forward to today." Then I thought, that's a fine way to start the day. So I said, "This is the day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it."

I got up, made coffee, and opened the blinds. Fishtrap Creek had flooded our back yard. This is by no means a disaster. Our back yard is a flood plain and, thanks to a retaining wall, the waters never approach the house. So I cultivated a mood of interest and observation. I even stepped outside onto the deck to take a good look and was soothed by an almost warm breeze. I watched the current flow around the trees, and, as always when the creek rises, I heard in my mind the Johnny Cash song, "How High's the Water, Mama?"

Later, walking my dog, I reflected that most mornings my waking mood is one of gloom and pessimism. From that starting point, I have to bring myself up to a reasonable level of cheer and optimism, which may peak in late afternoon. Then it's a gradual descent into either weariness or endurance and determination in the evening, occasionally supplemented by middle-of-the-night irrational anxiety. Is there any way I could wake up in the morning already feeling cheerful? I just don't think so. I am fearfully and wonderfully (as in, I wonder why) made. Overcoming a naturally melancholic disposition and learning to become tolerable company to myself and others is part of life's challenge for me.

I also noted how fortunate it is for my dog that my morning clouds don't affect him. He is a sunny extrovert when we rise. He knows that almost the first thing I will do is feed him, and that is a source of simple joy to him. He knows my routine and sits quietly and companionably with me while I have that necessary first cup of coffee. Once I finish, he demonstrates his happy trust that I will now get up and take him for his walk, and his expectant demeanor leads me to do so. Our walk makes him glad and does me good as well. He makes my ascent easier.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

State government and gambling

Watching TV tonight, I saw two commericals repeatedly. One was warning about the problems of youth gambling; the other was for Muckleshoot Indian Casino. The anti-gambling ad comes from the Washington State Department of Social & Health Services Problem Gambling Program. Meanwhile, Washington State Governor Gregoire is ready to sign a deal with tribes to increase the number of slot machines in tribal casinos, increase their hours of operation, and allow higher stakes. Among the top individual contributors to Governer Gregoire's 2004 campaign was the Puyallup Tribe, among the top industries donating was Tribal Governments, and tribal governments and lawyers were heavy contributors to the hand recount that finally put Gregoire in office. Had donors not funded the recount, she would have had to concede that she had lost the election.