Finding True North

During the summer I turned 18, I was involved in a fender bender. I backed my mom’s car out of a parking place…the car next to me had parked at an angle.  As I backed out, my front fender grabbed the back bumper of the neighboring car… and nearly pulled it off.  I checked the damage.  Mom’s car was fine.  The other car would need a new bumper…and something to hang it on.

I’d never been involved in any car accidents….what was the protocol?  There was no one in the parking lot.  No older adults to ask, “What should I do?”.  So, I grabbed a piece of paper, wrote an apology, and our home phone number so the driver could contact us for insurance information.  And then I drove home….wondering how I would tell my parents about this event.

There was no need.  When I got home, mom was in a rage.  The car owner had already called, insurance data had been provided, and mom was busy peeling paint about the soaring cost of her insurance premiums. 

Dad…none-to-thrilled that his weekend was off to a bumpy start…pulled me aside and asked a few questions.

  1. Were there people around? No sir.
  2. Was anyone hurt? No sir.
  3. Why in the world did you leave a note?

Today’s Gospel reading takes place a few days before the crucifixion.

There is a lot happening in this short passage.  There is irony, foreshadowing of the crucifixion, and the ongoing saga of our human brokenness.


Jesus is dining with Lazarus.  This is the same Lazarus who died while Jesus was out of town.  Jesus returned to Bethany to be with Martha and Mary in their grief.  He is moved to tears; the shortest passage of Scripture reads:  Jesus wept.  Then he does an extraordinary thing…Jesus commands Lazarus to emerge from his tomb.  And he does.

The Temple officials are undone by this kind of power.  Jesus has the power to restore life.  The Temple officials have the power to take life.  The restoration of Lazarus will lead directly to the death of Jesus.


Martha and Mary were eyewitness to the miracle of Lazarus walking out of a tomb.  He had been in the tomb for several days…they told Jesus that his body was already decomposing.  And now, they are dining together with a very alive Lazarus.

Mary’s eyes have been opened.  She breaks open an expensive perfume and anoints Jesus with it.  She uses so much of it that the whole house is filled with the fragrance. 

Nard was the perfume used for burial.  Jesus knows that Mary is preparing his body for burial.  Mary knows, too.


The Temple leaders fear Jesus.  Why? 

The people who are healed, fed, and taught do not fear Jesus.  The people following him do not fear him.  But the Temple leaders who hold earthly power do fear him. 

They have seen that he has authority over life, death, demons, illness.  He breaks a few fish and a few loaves of bread and feeds thousands.  Jesus never harms anyone.  He restores people to wholeness. 

Judas is cast in an unkindly light in this Gospel.  The narrator tells us that he will be the one to betray Jesus.  And, that his concern about the expensive perfume is not because he cares about the poor, but because he served as the treasurer for the disciples and often stole from the common purse.  He was in a position of trust, and he violated that trust…with money and with the life of his friend.

More brokenness:

Dad’s third question (“Why in the world did you leave a note”?) hung in the air.  There was an implicit message in his question:  I could have gotten away with it. 

Yet, ironically, if I had come home and told my parents about the parking lot incident and that, not knowing what to do, I just left without leaving a note, there would have been an equally loud outrage over my lack of judgement and integrity.

Integrity is what my parents expected of me.  But, in that moment, they were blinded by financial repercussions.

The confrontation between Judas and Jesus is an important one.

Judas is furious that Mary has wasted money on expensive perfume.  She has poured it over Jesus, filled the house with fragrance.  It is an over-the-top luxury.  And outside the door, there are people starving to death.  I have a lot of compassion for the way Judas sees this moment.

Judas is attuned to the pain and suffering in our world.  His anger and passion for the poor blind him to any other interpretation of this moment. 

I don’t watch much television.  But Monday morning, when I checked Facebook to see who was celebrating a birthday, my facebook page was filled with commentary about an event that had happened on Sunday evening.

At the Oscar awards, the emcee made a joke.  A beautiful, middle-aged woman developed a disease that caused all of her hair to fall out.  And, no more hair will grow.  She is bald.  The emcee made eye contact with the woman and then delivered a joke about her baldness.

After a few seconds went by, her husband walked onto the stage and slapped the emcee.  And then walked to his seat.  The slap heard round the world, was on live TV…being watched by millions of people.

By Monday morning, actors and actresses were publicly stating their shock over the incident, who was wrong, who was right, and what restitution ought to be made.

Well, my curiosity was piqued.  So I watched the youtube video of the event…

When the emcee says the joke, the camera is focused on the bald woman.  She’s sitting in the front row.  So you can see all the people around her and the rows behind her.  Everyone on camera laughs at the joke.  The crowd is laughing…you can hear it.

I’m not familiar with the disease this woman has.  But my mother has been bald for 15 years because of a chemotherapy drug.  I can’t imagine anyone telling a joke about her baldness … or laughing at it.

Wouldn’t you think that a joke like that would cause the room to be silent?  Why are all these people laughing?  And the next day, they’re busy pointing out who was right and wrong:  the violence is an outrage.  But they never hold the mirror up to their own behavior…their own participation…their own numbness to the pain of the one being mocked. 

Crucify him.  Crucify him.

Where is True North?

Jesus responds to Judas’ outburst.  He does not condemn Judas’ passion for the poor. 

He widens the angle of the conversation to include a divine perspective:  Judas, there’s more happening here than you see.  I will die this week.  Mary is preparing my body for death.  It is a good and loving thing.  She is demonstrating her love of God and neighbor. 

Throughout his ministry, Jesus widens the angle of our human lens.  He tells us through parables “The Kingdom of Heaven is like….”.  He tells us that we are loved…each of us…for exactly who we are.  He teaches us to pray, to ask that God’s will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.  That, one day, we will love God and one another as God loves us.

As we walk through the last week of Lent, perhaps the Gospel invites us to walk in Judas’ shoes.  To know that, no matter how narrow or misguided your perspective and my perspective may be, on the night before he dies for us, Jesus will kneel and wash our feet.  Not because we have done something to deserve this Love.  But, through God’s Grace, Christ is continually inviting us to grow in the way we Love God and our neighbor.

May God continue to widen our lens, and grant us the humility to forgive and be forgiven.