29 July 2022
Praying with the World Church in
Ordinary Time: Friday, 29 July 2022
The annual conference of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) took place in the High Leigh Conference Centre at Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire this week. The conference theme was ‘Living Stones, Living Hope.’
Today, the Church of England calendar in Common Worship remembers Mary, Martha and Lazarus, ‘Companions of our Lord,’ with a lesser festival.
I am continuing my prayer diary each morning this week in this way:
1,Reading the Gospel reading of the morning;
2,a short reflections on the reading;
3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’
As we recall Mary, Martha and Lazarus, ‘Companions of our Lord,’ with a lesser festival, the Gospel reading for Morning Prayer in Common Worship this morning is:
John 12: 1-8 (NRSVA):
1 Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3 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. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5 ‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?’ 6 (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.) 7 Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’
The gospels describe how Mary, Martha and their brother Lazarus offered Jesus hospitality in their home at Bethany outside Jerusalem. Jesus is said to have loved all three. After the death of Lazarus, Jesus wept and was moved by the sisters’ grief to bring Lazarus back from the dead.
Martha recognised Jesus as the Messiah, while Mary anointed his feet.
On another occasion, Mary was commended by Jesus for her attentiveness to his teaching while Martha served (see Luke 10: 38-42, Sunday 17 July 2022).
From these readings, Mary is traditionally portrayed as an example of the contemplative life while Martha is given often an example of the active spiritual life.
In both Gospel narratives, it seems to me, Mary’s actions show she is being trained for and anticipates her future discipleship and future ministry.
In Saint Luke’s account of this incident in the home in Bethany, we are told Mary ‘sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying’ or ‘listened to his teaching’ (Luke 10: 39). Traditionally, this reading seems to say that Mary is physically sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to him as he is teaching. Was it unusual for a woman to sit at the feet of a Jewish religious teacher in those days?
Saint Paul says ‘I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, educated strictly according to our ancestral law, being zealous for God, just as all of you are today’ (Acts 22: 3).
Sitting ‘at the feet of’ or ‘alongside of’ a rabbi is an idiom, a metaphor for being formally trained by a rabbi. The rabbis sat in a high chair, and their scholars on the ground, and so they were literally at their master’s feet.
Mary is learning at the feet of Jesus as Paul sits at the feet of Gamaliel, both being taught by their teachers, their rabbis. Mary is being taught as a disciple, in rabbinic language, she is becoming a disciple, a worthy future follower in her rabbi’s ministry.
In Saint John’s account of Jesus’ visit to the home in Bethany, Mary ‘anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair’ (John 12: 3). To wash and anoint the feet of Jesus is act comparable to the custom of the Levites washing the hands, and sometimes the feet of the kohanim after they remove their shoes and before they ascend the platform to give the priestly blessing to the congregation.
As this custom developed, the association of the Levites with this washing led to iconographic depictions of pitchers, ewers, and bowls on the tombstones of Levite families.
Mary is acknowledging the public ministry of Jesus, similar to that of the ministry of a priest among the congregation. But in doing so, she also opens herself to her own future role in sharing in priestly – even sacramental – ministry.
As I reflect on what the speakers had to say at this week’s USPG conference in High Leigh, I ask myself how do we live a life of discipleship that balances both teaching and serving? How do we live a full prayer life that finds a meaningful expression in a life of active discipleship reflecting our inner, spiritual life?
God our Father,
whose Son enjoyed the love of his friends,
Mary, Martha and Lazarus,
in learning, argument and hospitality:
may we so rejoice in your love
that the world may come to know
the depths of your wisdom, the wonder of your compassion,
and your power to bring life out of death;
through the merits of Jesus Christ,
our friend and brother,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The theme in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) this week is ‘The Way Towards Healing,’ looking at the work for peace of the Churches in Korea. This theme was introduced on Sunday by Shin Seung-min, National Council of Churches in Korea.
Friday 29 July 2022:
The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:
We pray for the people of Korea. May divisions in the country be resolved in a fair and peaceful manner.
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org