A Poet’s Look at the Story of Jesus by Heather Monkmeyer
There is so much beautiful humanity in this passage and so much to wonder about. Can you imagine being at a dinner party with someone who had just been brought back from the grave? Perhaps you had attended the burial and now he is right in front of your eyes! What would that be like for you?
I try to imagine the story from the perspective of the all the players: the crowd, Jesus, Lazarus, Martha, Judas, and Mary. I wonder if Mary’s action came from unspeakable gratitude for what Jesus had done for her brother, if she was indeed foreshadowing Jesus’ imminent death, if she was trying to cut the tension in the room, or all of those things. I wonder what Jesus thought of the wisdom of a party at this moment in time or the beautiful gift offered him that would be misinterpreted and scorned by those in attendance. I wonder about Martha as she watched her sister break open the jar and pour it out. I wonder if there was a moment when, taking in the whole scene, Judas questioned his trajectory. What do you wonder about as you sit with this story?
Here is a poem inspired by this passage written by my friend, Scott Dalgarno, originally published in America: The Jesuit Review, March 2005.
The Exquisite Corpse
Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. There they made him a supper.
Four days dead and sipping soup, Lazarus
Sits up, grunts, asks, What’s today? He reeks
Of tomb, but no one blanches at this banquet.
Sister Martha feeds him, wipes his chin, reminding him
Of time and mass and the unforgiving weight of resuscitation.
There’s that late-charge he thought he was clear of, And the pruning, and that long look a bar-maid
Once gave him, but that’s all in Lazarus’ moldy brain.
The guests merely gape; the vacuum of the tomb Has sucked every verb from the house, but Mary
Has an idea. She produces a jar of nard, pure, priceless,
And gloppy as death. She smashes it like some Jeremiah,
Peeling the fractured alabaster, lavishing the ooze
On Jesus’ chapped knees and feet. All stand transfixed,
But Lazarus’ eyes are still on Martha’s spoon,
Hovering a bit out of reach. Slowly he searches the room
For an explanation. There’s Mary, as busy as a Martha,
And Martha, nonplussed, her heart churning envy and disgust.
What kind of household is this, Lazarus wonders,
Where the dead are fed and the living embalmed?
Nothing sealed is safe; nothing at rest left undisturbed By the merciless provocations of the living.
What prayer rises up in you today as you sit with this story? What simple or lavish offering might you give today?
John 12: 1-11
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, ‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?’ (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’
When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.