Today’s reading from Isaiah is the first of the four Servant Songs the book contains. This one speaks of how God’s anointed agent will establish justice upon the earth. We tend to hear promises of justice and judgment as ominous phrases. But that is because we are accustomed to our human understandings of justice and imaginations of God cleaning house. God’s justice, though, puts things right. All things. Including ourselves. God’s promise is that the mess that the world and its human occupants are in will be justified (i.e., straightened out). This is Good News and brings tidings of great joy. We must welcome it with uplifted and hopeful spirits. As the Psalmist proclaims in today’s Psalm reading, “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.”
The selection from Hebrews reminds us that God works in ways that surprise us. The writer speaks of Christ as “mediator of a new covenant.” It is something new, and unexpected. It defies the way we believe the world operates. It shakes loose the frozen patterns that humans fall into. Our familiarity with the Bible and Christianity can mislead us into thinking that we truly comprehend God’s workings. We must resist the constant temptation to such complacency.
The account from John’s Gospel of Mary (the sister of Martha and Lazarus) anointing Jesus for his burial does not hide the puzzling nature of that act. From selfish motives, Judas makes what would seem to many the more “practical” suggestion that the exorbitant amount of perfume be sold and the proceeds given to charitable works. But this Gospel reminds us that true Christian discipleship will always puzzle the world. In burying the stench of approaching death beneath the sweetness of love, Mary’s act of utter devotion to Jesus transcends the cultural conventions. She is acting with the love that Jesus will later command as the defining characteristic of His followers. Only by such love will His church always be known.