We all have that thing that motivates us, that thing we cannot resist. For some it is money and the ways to make it, legal and illegal. For others it is the thrill that comes from escaping a dangerous situation like skydiving. For others, it is chocolate! Each of us responds in a certain way given a certain stimulus and varies in intensity with each of us. Just as on Palm Sunday we saw a variety of events that sparked the leadership to respond, but they only capped growing fear and resentment in those who were threatened by Jesus’s ministry. The passage in John takes place prior to the triumphal entry, but sets the stage for much to come.
Isaiah and Hebrews reference covenants of God with humankind. In the Isaiah passage, the author celebrates benefits of being the people in covenant with God. The Hebrews author presents the supremacy of the covenant that came through Christ. The differences between the covenants so drastically changed religious practice that the entire economy around worship was demolished while the reward for those following the new covenant exceeded that for those following the old.
The passage in John takes us to Jesus visiting close friends in Bethany just before making his journey into Jerusalem. At dinner with Mary, Martha, Lazarus, and at least some of the twelve apostles, Mary with passion and humility does the most meaningful thing she can think of doing. She take the very best of perfumes and spreads it over Jesus’s feet with her hair. As the author of John presents it, Judas feigns disappointment in suggesting a donation to the poor would have been a better use of the perfume while internally coveting the money for his own use. Various passages present the weakness of various apostles and here is Judas’s fault.
The message Jesus gave of his coming death, in the home of the one he raised from the dead, went unrecognized by those present. Judas’s greed and the apparent obliviousness of the others present reflect typical human nature. For Jesus to say he was going to die, while sitting at the table with one he had called from the grave, was beyond what those present were able to imagine. It is not that they were not paying attention, they could not believe Jesus could die.
The crowd who gathered to see Jesus also came to see Lazarus. People Jesus cured could be found all along the routes of his ministry, but Lazarus represented the ultimate miracle. And the ultimate threat to the religious establishment. John reveals the determination of the religious leadership to not only kill Jesus, but to kill Lazarus who was proving the convincing evidence for Jews who had up to now resisted the teaching of Jesus. For those chief priests and religious leadership barely holding on to power in the midst of an occupation by a culture hostile to the Jewish faith, a competing religion threatened their hold on power more than the military. Their position and livelihood could disappear as quickly as their followers.
Even today we see people in all walks of life responding to greed and power as did those in the passages today. Even we respond to these basic urges. Our responses to those urges define us regardless of who we claim to be. Those responses label us old covenant, new covenant, or no covenant. When faced with the challenges of life, I need to stop and consider which covenant my response reflects.