Image: ‘Mary’ by He Qi (detail).

‘Mary the teacher’

Melinda Kearns
Lent 5, Year C
John 12:1-8

Today I’m going to be talking about teaching, learning and wisdom – how Jesus taught, how the people closest to him responded to his teaching, and how we teach and learn now.

I have lived my professional life as an English teacher, working mostly in girls’ secondary schools. Some years ago, when I worked at a Catholic school, we began all our faculty meetings by praying together. It didn’t stop some of those meetings ending up with people yelling at each other, but it was well intentioned.

At that time, I found a prayer to begin our faculty meetings which started with: “Lord Jesus, When you lived, walked and talked amongst people in Palestine, they called you Teacher. Help us to remember the greatness of the work which has been given for us to do …”

I won’t go on, because it got a bit cheesy after that, but it was a great comfort for all of us to think of Jesus as a teacher and the significance of the work that we did in following in Christ’s footsteps.

With regard to paths and footsteps, on a personal note today, I need to tell you all, as my church family about my Period of Discernment, which finished at the end of last year, and what the next steps are for me, but I’ll come back to that shortly.

In the story we have just heard (in John with parallels in Luke), there are some unique ideas about teaching and learning being explored by Martha, Mary, Jesus and even Judas. They all have points to make, and roles to play in telling this story, and something to teach us.

With regard to the family of Mary, Martha and their brother Lazarus, what more could they go through with their friend Jesus?

We don’t know how long they have known Jesus for, but he is clearly a close friend of the family. Earlier (according to Luke), Mary sits by Jesus’ feet while he teaches, learning from him. When Martha complains about having to do all the work on her own, Jesus tells her that Mary has chosen “what will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:48).

When their brother Lazarus dies, Mary tells Jesus that Lazarus wouldn’t have died if Jesus had been there, and Martha tells him that she knows he is the Messiah. How do you respond to your friend, your teacher, who is the Messiah – who has the power to raise people from the dead?

Jesus listens to Mary and she listens to him.

She responds by bathing him in perfume and wiping his feet with her hair, a gesture profoundly intimate and nurturing. She demonstrates deep love and vulnerability in performing this gesture and Jesus also demonstrates love and vulnerability in both defending her extravagant gesture and, as anyone who has ever been vulnerable knows, in letting her perform it for him.

He goes on, shortly, to wash the feet of his disciples. The disciples also have to allow him to wash their feet.

Jesus teaches by way of example how to receive love and wisdom, and how to defend and protect the most vulnerable.

Mary’s gesture, in bathing Jesus in perfume, is extravagant in all senses of the word.

Judas objects to the waste, saying that the money could have gone to the poor. Despite his questionable motivations, he’s got a point. A year’s wages gone in a moment? Couldn’t you do something else with the money?

Jesus defends Mary and her beautiful gesture and a year’s wages is, unfortunately, a drop in the ocean in comparison to the great need of the world.

Jesus tells us that we will always have the poor amongst us and exhorts us to care for the needy and the vulnerable. The death that Mary’s anointing foreshadows is the power to change the world in the radical love, inclusivity, hospitality and vulnerability that Jesus offers, shown through those who, like Mary, are devoted to his teaching and teach others through their actions.

And so, church family, I am now asking for your support and prayers as I continue on my journey to become a Minister of the Word.

I have Jesus the Teacher and Mary the teacher in my mind and heart as I continue on the next steps of my journey to teach and learn with all God’s people, and to listen to the call to pursue further learning, training and ministry opportunities.

I am grateful to all of you for all the support I have received, particularly from Andrew, my Period of Discernment Mentor, Vanessa Williams-Henke, and all the members of the church council.

In pursuing further training to be a Minister of the Word I am excited about the opportunity to continue to teach and learn and to discover more about the God I am trying to serve.

I am inspired by the continuing diversity I see in the Uniting Church as the working out of God’s Spirit, and long for others who might have felt marginalised in other parts of the church to explore the inclusivity that this Church offers.

I lean on the model of Jesus the Teacher as I take these steps into a new future and pray that we all come to know and serve God more fully.

May we all know the blessings of deep peace, great joy, assurance and guidance from our loving God as we respond to the needs of the world and our communities, as we feel called and support each other as we do so. Amen.