By: Chad Hyatt
Reflection—v. 8, why this waste?
There are always those who want to sell something for a large sum and give the money to the poor in a programatic way. It makes sense, I suppose. Surely, this must be a better, more efficient use of resources, the reasoning goes. But the truth is it also keeps our hands from getting dirty with the dust of the feet of the poor—and conveniently, it maintains the status quo just as it is, with a clear line between ‘generous’ benefactors and ‘grateful’ beneficiaries. Matthew places the anointing at Bethany just after the parables of Matthew 25 where Jesus reminds us that how we respond to the poor is equal to how we respond to Jesus himself. The anonymous woman with the jar of perfume embodies the gospel—and it stands in stark contrast to a more sensible, efficient response to human need. She extravagantly anoints Jesus, one particular poor man, showing him care as the days to his death draw closer. She isn’t distracted by the ‘poor’ as an abstraction, a ‘problem to be solved.’ She sees the poorest man in her midst, and mercifully shares with him what she has for his need. Her sharing imparts the dignity of genuine mercy, as the giver shares her gift in a way that the one who receives is honored, having his head anointed like a king. In an instant, the status quo is shattered. This is the difference between the gospel and so many well-intended efforts to alleviate human suffering. The difference, in a word, is mercy.
Prayer Jesus, let me see you in one person today, discovering lavish mercy in poverty.
By: Chad Hyatt
Reflection—v. 5, humble and mounted on a donkey
This Palm Sunday, we celebrate the Savior King, and we let our loud ‘hosannas’ ring out with joy. But we know where the road that leads up to Jerusalem will take him. We know that the cross is not far away now, that other loud shouts will soon rain down upon him whom we praise today—calls to ‘crucify him’ and that ‘we have no king but Cesar.’ And as much as we identify today with glad shouts of praise, we cannot deny that we—in our sin and our selfishness—also betray, deny, abandon, and yes, nail him to the cross, just as his contemporaries did. For this reason, we must never allow our worship, even as we remember the ‘triumphal entry,’ to become triumphalist. It is the one we crucified who has been raised from the dead. And this truth gives a new beauty to our praise, for the victory of God is not the defeat of enemies but their reconciliation. The triumph of God is mercy. Our salvation is forgiveness. Knowing this, let us praise him who comes ‘humble, and mounted on a donkey’ instead of a ‘warhorse.’ (21:5; cf. Zech. 9:9). If nonviolence was not at the heart of the gospel, then surely we must know that none of us would be saved—for we have all made ourselves enemies of love, of life, of God. In a climate where we are constantly being told to hate our enemies, to wipe them from the face of the earth, we must refuse hate. We must choose love and the way of the cross as our most faithful praise, today and always.
Prayer Savior King, help us live the way of the cross, in love and mercy for all people.
By: Maggie Leonard
Reflection— v. 41, they removed the stone
Here’s the storyline as I’m reading it today—Lazarus was ill, things kept getting worse until he hit rock bottom. His friends and family saw his struggle and their hearts broke. With the help of God, new life was offered! But there was a rock in the way. Do his friends write him off as lost forever or do they move the rock? Sometimes there are real barriers in our way to healthy living, barriers that were placed there by someone else. It can take a whole community to remove those barriers. As Christian community, we trust in the power of God, value the empowerment of the individual, and know that we are called to look past our own self-interest and gather together as a community to help others. In particular, we gather to help the most vulnerable in our community—those without resources or power within our society. Can we take seriously those who tell us that our systems are hurting them? Do we believe those who tell us that they are oppressed? Can we see the advantages that some have over others? Who do we dismiss? Who do we help? Who do we stand with? Can we keep our hearts open and help those who are asking for it, or for us to stand with them as they help themselves?
Prayer God, help us to see the stones in our community. Help us have the wisdom, strength, power, and numbers to remove them.
By: Maggie Leonard
Reflection—v. 39, Lord, the smell will be awful! He’s been dead four days.
If there was ever any doubt that Lazarus was truly dead, perhaps he was asleep, his smell would satisfy the strongest of skeptics. Smell is an unmistakable sign of death. How much more incredible is resurrection when we know that it came from death? Have you ever witnessed a someone who was in a really bad place, experiencing their own death, a separation from love? Someone who was really struggling with their circumstances—grieving the loss of a loved one, divorce or a break-up, depression, job loss, or transitions. Can you name what it was that helped you to see that person’s struggle? What are the tell-tale signs of your own suffering, your own death? Perhaps you, or they, become more controlling, fearful, judgmental, needy, negative, or self-centered. Perhaps you compromise your value system or drink more. Perhaps you isolate yourself. Perhaps you can’t be alone. Perhaps everyone around you seems more negative (read: projection). Perhaps your mind is racing, you can’t sleep, or you have trouble seeing your own value. Those feelings do not last forever, but we do have to be gentle with ourselves and those who suffer when we see it. In moments of despair, God cries with us and moves us back toward abundant life. Resurrection is possible!
Prayer Jesus, you cry when we are separated from your love. Draw us back to life.
By: Maggie Leonard
Reflection—v. 35, Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, ‘See how much he loved him!’ But some of them said, ‘He healed the eyes of the man born blind. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?’
Pretend that the last person that you talked to (take a moment, who was it?) just told you that he or she is pregnant. What would your reaction be? Surprise? Over-the-top squealing with joy? Profanity? Anger? Sadness? With a host of questions? Laughter? Blame? A fix? Though there are so many options, frequently we find ourselves reactive, defaulting to one response, blind to the other possibilities. Our responses are colored by the things we have going on, what we expect from someone, and even the tone of the questioner (they might expect a particular response from you). Our answer might change given the hour or the day. In this passage we see two different responses to people reacting to the same experience. One group responds with empathy—noticing the feelings involved and honoring them as such. The second group responds with a fix—which comes out as criticism and blame. Notice the distance between this second group that jumps to trouble-shooting and Jesus. Connection to one another in the midst of a bad situation requires vulnerability, the sharing of feelings, and the ability to sit with discomfort. It takes more time but does draw us together.
Prayer Compassionate God, help us to approach one another with tenderness.
By: Maggie Leonard
Reflection—v. 11, these bones are the entire house of Israel
Dry bones, death, this lack of living is not just an individual problem, it’s the struggle of a people, all of society. The essence of being a people is seeing one another as equally spirit-filled—that God is infused in each and every one of us—and as kindred—somehow bound to one another, whether by culture, belief, blood, proximity, or interest. The meat of coming together as society is relationship. In our increasingly global world, our work is to find kindredness in our fellow humans, if for no other reason than someone else is human. Being human carries value, nothing has to be done to earn that value. We are intrinsically valuable, beloved. Being diverse, we will not all see things the same way, but that doesn’t have to break relationship. The discomfort of disagreeing frequently leads to push-back, to blame. But blame for what went wrong turns discomfort into an issue, something to fix, and corrodes relationship. To nurture relationship we have to find connection, to nurture empathy. Nurturing relationship requires openness, forgiveness, and vulnerability. When something doesn’t go our way, we name what we experienced and how we feel—which requires vulnerability—instead of pointing fingers and blowing up. Our spirit-filled relationship will enflesh the driest of bones.
Prayer Triune God, relationship is the sweetness of life. Help us to relate and love.
By: Maggie Leonard
Reflection—v. 7-8, the bones came together, bone by bone… suddenly there were sinews on them… flesh appeared… covered over with skin. But there was still no breath in them
Bones may have flesh, but that does not mean that they are living. Consider for a moment, zombies. Yes, I know that they are fictional, but they are not without literary symbolism—they are the walking dead, going through all the motions of human life, but without the life part. We can get this way, becoming rigid or set in our ways, forgetting the things that motivate and inspire us. Morever, just like these mindless monsters we too can become numb and prone to violence and war, hoping only to satisfy our hungers and cravings, and eager to spread our affliction to others. Like zombies, just because we are enfleshed does not mean that we are living. To really live requires breath, requires spirit. There is a spark that enlivens a purpose and which decisively engages us. The Spirit helps us to live fully—full of feeling, full of surprise, full of inspiration, full of hope, and full of love.
Prayer God of light and life, give these old bones purpose, motivation, and inspiration. Stir our spirits that we may be messengers and teachers of life.
By: Maggie Leonard
Reflection—v. 5, I am about to put breath in you, and you will live
In Hebrew, the word ‘ruach’ is translated into English a few different ways, most frequently as ‘breath’ or ‘spirit.’ In this ancient understanding, both spirit and breath are one and the same. And ruach turns death into life. I love how physical our faith is—that in touching water I can remember that I am beloved, in eating bread that I can remember Jesus’ saving grace, and in breathing that I can remember God’s life giving spirit within me always. Every breath we take can be a reminder of the way that God infuses us with life. We don’t truly live without spirit. And really, I think that’s an important part of this passage—life does not come to us because of what we have done. It’s not something to be won or forced in one direction or another. Life is something that is given, placed within us, which we can then experience. When I slow down enough to notice each breath, I savor the sweetness of living. In that way, life is not about what we make of it, but to feel all the feels, survey the possibilities, act with intentionality, be curious, honor the experience of others, dwell with love, and to know God.
Prayer Spirit, you are truly the center of our existence. Help open us to the possibility of experiencing all that you offer—soften our resistance and grow in us a humble heart that we might let go and live in you.
By: Maggie Leonard
Reflection—v. 3, can these bones live again?
The thing about bones is that they are so final—they are all that is left when life is exhausted. Can these bones live again? The obvious answer is ‘no.’ But somehow that feels so unsatisfying and like the wrong answer, if for no other reason than that the question was raised. But let us rest in the truth and finality of death for just a moment. Can we allow ourselves to feel the definitiveness of dry bones, of death? I look around sometimes and feel the hopelessness of death, the ways in which love is killed or overlooked. Each article I read on my news feed feels like another bone in the valley—violent shootings, war-ravaged countries, people fleeing in mass from their homeland, name-calling and shouting matches, and further destruction of the environment. Looking around my own community, I see more dry bones—cold bodies, mental illness, hungry bellies, hearts broken, rage rising, relationships forgotten, backdoor deals, and poor communication. Each bone sucked dry by the fear, anxiety, loneliness, despair that accompany the circumstances described. The way out doesn’t seem clear and the resources scant. Can the bones live again? Can we live again? I suppose there is wisdom in Ezekiel’s answer, ‘Lord God, only you know.’
Prayer God of all life, may we believe in your unconditional love and the impossible life that your love brings about.
By: Maggie Leonard
Reflection—v. 5, spat… spread mud on his eyes… saying to him, ‘go wash’
Speaking of fixing things… helping people is so good! We are created to help one another. But so often we over do it. We forget what helping looks like—it is messy, grimy, raw, complicated, and personal. We also can’t do everything for others. The person who needs help has to participate as well. In her book, The New Codependency (I highly recommend it), Melody Beattie says, ‘codependency is normal behavior, plus. There are times we do too much, care too much, feel too little, or overly engage. We forget where the other person’s responsibilities begin and our responsibilities stop.’ Too often, I have volunteered unsolicited advice or tried to coordinate for someone all that I thought they needed, only for the advice to be ignored (leaving me bitter, because I know about these things… how patronizing!) or the coordination falling incomplete (it wasn’t really wanted and their effort wasn’t wasted). Here, Jesus models for us healthy helping and reminds us that those who we are trying to help have to participate in the healing, in the fixing. Not to allow one another to have that agency robs one of her potential, of her power.
Prayer Helping God, help me not to get caught up in how good it feels to help others. May I be open to their empowerment.