It's a coincidence that we're giving two passages from the Gospel of John a workout today. The Bishops' Lenten reflection this week [LINK] is from John 8:1-11, and Daniel Gullotta sent in this poignant and succinct reflection on the meaning to be taken from John 12:1-8. It's a reflection on love.
The example of Mary Magdalene in John 12: 1-8...
You may have noticed that the anointing of Jesus by Mary is anticipatory of a very important later event (one we talk about a lot more), Jesus' washing of his disciples' feet at the Last Supper. In the foot washing, Jesus will wash his disciples' feet as an expression of his love for them and as a sign of service to them, and to one another. Yet what Jesus will ask of them, Mary as already done for him.
Through Mary, John gives us a picture of the fullness of a life of discipleship. In many ways she is the perfect disciple, not because she simply obeys every call and command of her master, but because her devotion to Jesus allows her to put his teachings into actions, actions he has not even instructed her to do. Mary's discipleship is brought out even more strongly in contrast with Judas. Judas answers her deeds with self-centred disdain, it is almost ironic that Judas' response leads to the destruction of the flock, whereas Mary's actions model the life of love and service that characterise Jesus' followers, and it is happening before their very eyes!
The power of Mary's discipleship in this story is that she knows how to respond to Jesus without even being told. She fulfils Jesus' commandment of love, even before he teaches it. Maybe it was her woman's intuition kicking in, or perhaps it was because she knew the loving nature of Jesus so well, that such an act seemed obvious. Maybe it was a bit of both. Either way, Mary reveals that the true nature of discipleship is defined by acts of love and one's response to Jesus.
I also think it is important to acknowledge that this is revealed by a woman. While we remember her as a saintly person, remember at the time rabbis were only men, and only men became their disciples. But in the case of Mary's example, it is a woman, not a man, that is the first to embody the love that is commanded of rabbi Jesus, to all disciples. She is not only a disciple, but the best one!
The Fourth Gospel does not conform to some of the church's stereotypical assumptions about the composition of Jesus' inner circle of disciples, then and now. Many of us seem to make these assumptions today about people who claim to be Christian, who from our point of view, seem the least likely people to be so! There are people who we expect to see in the church, and most of the time they are there, but Jesus' most intimate disciples have always been the most surprising, and the most challenging. John teaches us valuable lessons on who and what makes a true disciple and the surprising nature of who the Holy Spirit calls to discipleship. But Jesus' disciples are persons, like Mary, whom he loves and who love him and live out of that love. We must never forget that it is not ethnicity, nationality, age, gender, or sexuality that marks a true disciple, but rather, love.
What are your thoughts on this commentary?