You know what I’m thinking so far this Holy Week? That it must have been fun to hang out with Jesus.
I’ll admit: This is a bit of a departure from the focus of mainstream Christianity during these high holy days. Still, it’s been fruitful for me to dwell on the trappings of friendship for a time…before entering into the profound mystery surrounding our suffering Savior.
I’ll admit this, too: You kinda have to read between the lines in order to find that ‘friendship’ space in the scripture passages we’ve been hearing during the first half of Holy Week – but I think it’s there…the proof that those closest to Jesus…really enjoyed spending time with him.
In his famous Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola encourages the use of scripture in just this way: Imagine yourself to be in the scene. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you smell?
So that’s where I found myself yesterday and today…lurking in the background at the dinner parties Jesus attended during the last few days of his life on earth.
On Monday, we heard the story of the soiree at Bethany…in the home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus.
They gave a dinner for him there, and Martha served, while Lazarus was one of those reclining at table with him. Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair; the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.
As I sat with the story a bit, it kinda tickled my funny bone. I recalled the episode recounted elsewhere in the gospels – how Martha got a little miffed at her sister for not helping out with the chores when they’d previously welcomed Jesus to their home.
And it occurred to me that perhaps on this occasion, it was time for Mary to pay the piper. She broke out the perfume…starting anointing Jesus’ feet…and realized that she didn’t have anything at hand with which to wipe up afterwards. “Oh, Martha,” I imagined Mary imploring sweetly, “could you be a doll…and bring me a towel?”
To which her hard-working sister replied, “Get it yourself, Sis! I’ve got real work to do!” At which, the whole room burst into laughter…and Mary cheerfully started using her own hair for the dirty work while giggling along with the rest of their friends.
True to form, Judas turns into a party-pooper:
Then Judas the Iscariot, one of his disciples, and the one who would betray him, said, “Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages and given to the poor?”
And he’s there again in the gospel passage we heard today at Mass, working up the nerve to finally do his dastardly deed.
Reclining at table with his disciples, Jesus was deeply troubled and testified, “Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, at a loss as to whom he meant. One of his disciples, the one whom Jesus loved, was reclining at Jesus’ side. So Simon Peter nodded to him to find out whom he meant.
But once again, as I sat with this scripture, I was drawn not so much to the drama of Judas’ betrayal…as to the touching and heartwarming scene in which it occurred: Jesus, relaxing at table with his closest friends – a circle so close, in fact, that its members could communicate with a simple nod here and gesture there.
As I thought about that intimate gathering, I realized that I woulda loved to have been there – to feel the friendship, the confidence, the camaraderie, of that soon-to-become scandalous night.
There will be time enough to consider the mystery of Christ’s great sacrifice as we continue to move toward the climactic stories of this holy season later on in the week.
For now, though, it’s a blessing to have encountered the Love present in these dinnertime gatherings…and to know that Jesus desires to gaze upon each one of us with the very same tenderness and affection.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy One.