1. The fragrance of violence
We meet Jesus, the poor, homeless Jewish teacher and healer, in Bethany, welcomed in the home of Lazarus, Martha and Mary, which he regularly visited.
It is six days before the Jewish Passover, as bustling, expectant crowds prepare to journey to Jerusalem, 3 kilometres south, to repeat ancient rituals originally performed in Egypt. A memory of suffering and scarcity, “without land, prosperity, favour even identity itself”
(Schwartz, x); and a liberating memory of preparing for the Exodus and freedom from imperial oppression and violence.
Yet, John’s Gospel informs us that some Jewish leaders plot to kill Jesus and Lazarus in Jerusalem. “Jesus moves resolutely toward violence”, a new identity as the sufferer.
2. The fragrance of the ethics of scarcity
The fragrance of scarcity and betrayal exists in the home of Lazarus during their supper. When Mary anoints the feet of Jesus with an extremely costly ointment, whose worth was near a year’s wages, Judas objects that this is a wasteful use of resources. John informs us that Judas will betray Jesus and we see that his social concern for the poor is questionable.
Yet, an ethics of scarcity underlies his judgements and actions. Regina Schwartz argues this ethic can be found in Hebrew Scriptures, where “God is not imagined as infinitely giving, but strangely withholding.” And further, that this involves “that other peoples must be identified as objects to abhorred … in violent exclusions.”
I agree with Eric Santner when he questions Schwartz’s interpretation that God can be seen like this. Yet, nations, cultures, religions and churches throughout history have at times practiced exclusionary and violent ethics of scarcity.
3. Love fills the world with the fragrance of generosity
Mary, in contrast to Judas, and the disciples, anointed the feet of Jesus with very expensive ointment as he and the guests reclined at the meal table, and then wiped it off with her hair. Moloney writes that this emerges from an abundance of affection, as Mary’s loving gesture fills their home with fragrance.
John wants us to sense the nature of this fragrance of love, alerting us that Mary sensed, felt and knew that violence and death overshadowed Jesus. Lazarus, Martha, Judas, and others were surrounded by the odour, but were either neutral or reactive to it, unable to experience its meaning or the transformative power of love of the way of the cross.
The ethics of generosity claims and includes others, especially the marginalised. This woman, a paradigm of discipleship, cares for the body of Jesus on the way to the cross, “and prepares us for the emergence of this body as the new symbolic center of the community”, (Ched Myers, 359), where all are included, none are sent away.
Rev Vladimir Korotkov