Mary the Minister and Disciple

Posted on

I’d like to share with you a time I have had my feet washed…


Sunday in Lent; March 17, 2013

43.16-21; Psalm 126; Philippians 3.4b-14; John 12.1-8

Renee Splichal Larson


Grace and
peace to you from the triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Our Gospel
reading today deserves a little scene setting. 
This morning we are in Lazarus’ home in Bethany, approximately two miles
east of Jerusalem.  It is only six days
before Jesus is betrayed by Judas and arrested. 
Jesus has been to Bethany before. 
In one visit he is teaching and Martha is kept busy taking care of
guests and Mary soaks in all Jesus has to say as she sits at his feet. 

In another
visit, the occasion is much more somber. 
Lazarus has died and his sisters, Mary and Martha, are grieving his
death.  When Jesus arrives he also weeps
over the death of his friend, and making a decision that will set the wheels in
motion for people in power to plot his murder, Jesus chooses to raise Lazarus
from the dead.  Lazarus comes out of the
tomb as he hears Jesus’ voice calling to him and lives again.  Upon seeing this, many believe in Jesus, but
others go to some Pharisees in power, and from that day forward they plan to
arrest Jesus and have him killed (John 11.53). 
Not only that, they also plan to kill Lazarus (again) since it is
because of him that so many people were beginning to follow Jesus (John 12.10).

events directly lead up to our scene today. 
The man who was once dead sits at the table with Jesus.  Martha, the great confessor of Jesus as the
Messiah in chapter 11 (John 11.27), takes on her usual role in serving
dinner.  The disciples gather round as
well, perhaps a little weirded out by being at the same table as the dead guy
who has come back to life, not quite knowing where their beloved leader will
take them next.  And then we have the
extravagant, unpredictable action of Mary.

But first, I
must say a word about feet: In the time of Jesus it was a normal practice to
give a basin of water to people in which to wash their feet when they arrived
at a home.  Foot washing was reserved for
slaves because it was a dirty job. 
Almost all people walked everywhere and wore sandals.  As you can imagine, feet were rarely clean
and were often in need of washing and care.

So Mary
takes a pound of perfume that is worth a whole year’s wages and pours it on
Jesus’ feet, and then wipes them with her hair. 
She pours so much out that the entire house is filled with its
fragrance, letting everyone there in on the gift of the perfume.  It is an incredible act of love for the One
she believes is her savior, the One who raised her brother from the dead.

Mary is the
only person in the Gospel of John to anoint Jesus, and in a sense, minister to
him.  I would guess that most people
rarely think of Jesus needing to be ministered to, but if we believe he was
truly God and truly human, then being truly human means Jesus struggles too and
probably isn’t excited about the death he knows he’s going to die. 

Jesus is a
week away from being abandoned by all his disciples and his excruciating death
on the cross.  Not long after Jesus
leaves the home of Lazarus and enters Jerusalem in verse 27 he says, “Now my
soul is troubled.” Knowing what is ahead of him, he is so moved by Mary’s act
of extravagant service and love and defends her when she is criticized for such
a “waste” of costly perfume.  Mary
anoints the feet of Jesus’ that will soon walk the streets (the via dolorosa)
of Jerusalem, carrying his own cross, up to the place of the skull where he
will be crucified.

What I find
so fascinating about Mary’s care of Jesus is that right away in chapter 13,
Jesus mirrors Mary and washes his disciples’ feet.  Like Mary, Jesus takes the place of a slave,
bends down, and washes the dirty feet of his disciples.  “After he had washed their feet…” he asks
them, “Do you know what I have done to you?…If I, your Lord and Teacher, have
washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet (John 13.12, 14).” 

What makes
Jesus Jesus is that he even washes the feet of all those he knows will betray
him, even Judas, who is labeled in our reading today as a thief and a betrayer.  The living Word through which all things were
created and have their being, stoops down and gets his hands dirty in order to
show us what real love is and how we are to love one another.  Mary demonstrates this kind of love and model
of discipleship Jesus wants all his disciples to follow. 

I’d like to
share with you a time I have had my feet washed.  I have never shared this story publically.  Many of you know that I survived the Haiti
earthquake over 3 years ago.  At the time
of the earthquake I had flip flops on and Jonathan had no shoes on at all.  Our feet were exposed to sharp pieces of
concrete and all the dust and dirt that came with it.  The day after the earthquake, Jon and I made
a long journey, much of it on foot to the US embassy.  Days later we arrived with 17 other people
from New Jersey to the Dallas airport.  I
was sitting on the floor with my shoes off and one of the women from the group
looked at my feet, gasped a little bit and asked me to come with her to the
bathroom.  I followed and she asked me to
sit up on the sink area.  It was then
that I noticed my feet for the first time. 
They were almost black, covered in dirt and concrete dust.  They had scrapes, abrasions, and dried blood
on them.  I was too exhausted and
overwhelmed to be embarrassed.  I just
let her take my feet in her hands as she gently scrubbed my wounds and washed
the filth away. 

I don’t
remember a single word she said or even if she said any words while she washed
my feet.  I remember being moved to tears
and I swear the ache in my heart mended a little by such an incredible and
simple act of love towards me. 

experience has given me a deeper understanding as to what it means to wash
someone’s feet and what it means to let someone literally wash my feet.  Often times it can be more difficult to truly
let someone serve you! 

Being as we
live in the 21st century and don’t live in a desert, it can be
difficult to relate to actual foot washing, or the kind of love Mary shows
Jesus and in turn, Jesus towards his disciples. 
What I really think “foot washing” means is to enter into the messiness,
the hurt, the dirtiness, and the suffering of other people and to love them
through it and also let people do the same for you.

Jesus makes
it very clear that we need each other. 
Life is too difficult to walk it alone. 
When we live in community with others it doesn’t take very long before
jealously can happen, rivalries, hierarchy and rank, and the misuse of our own
power to rise above someone else.  What
Jesus and Mary show us is how to live in community well as we care for one
another.  “Foot washing” is to understand
that you and I are no better than anyone else and that we are servants of each

When Shera
went through her service of consecration she was given a basin and a towel,
both symbols of service.  Her vocation
among us is to show us how and empower us to serve one another and reach out
into our communities and world with the love of Jesus.

We usually
have our own ideas about what it means to love and be loved, but Mary and Jesus
show us a new and powerful way to love. 
Even if you think of yourself as the betrayer or thief, Jesus still
washes your feet and pours himself out in love as he dies for you on the cross.  As we enter into Holy week next Sunday, may
you feel and know the love of this community and of God for you.