Fr Peter Beck presided and Mother Meg Harvey preached. The Gospel reading was taken from
Read on for the sermon and a video of the service.
Unfortunately the video stops before the end of the service this week. We are
currently in the process of improving our streaming offering.
Sometime ago my Mum and Dad and I and my friends Tess and Ian went to see the
Scottish comedian Danny Bhoy. Before the show we had dinner at a South American
restaurant. We all had beef espetada – a beautiful rich skewer kebab of meat and
vegetables over a bed of quinoa, black beans and corn. To start with we had shared some
guacamole, which they make fresh at your table in front of you and was utterly delicious.
It was a fabulous meal in a very cool surrounding before an extremely funny show and all
in all a great night out.
Nice story isn’t it?
Here’s what you didn’t hear in that story. This happened one week after I had dislocated
my shoulder. So to start with I was still on some pretty heavy painkillers so that may have
coloured my appreciation of the food and the comedy of the evening. Plus it meant that
when my espetada arrived my Mummy had to cut up my meat for me to eat with my left
hand. Also, Tess and Ian particularly, but all of us are foodies, so we love enjoying good
food and to do so together is a symbol of the love we share as friends and family.
What I’m trying to illustrate is that so many – so very, very many – of the stories we hear
in life are not the full picture. What we are told and what happened can be different, but
more importantly what we are told and what that actually means can also be very
different. This is what we find when we look at scripture. Even more than our day to day
exchanges scripture and the words it is comprised of have so much more meaning than is
The stories of the Bible, especially of the gospels, are so wondrous and faith inspiring it
can be easy to leave them at their first impression. But when we look more closely and
give it more thought there is a richness, depth and symbolism that offers us so much
more. Today’s gospel reading is a prime example of this.
On the surface this is a nice tale of Jesus visiting some friends where one of the women is
kind enough to anoint his feet. But, yep you guessed it, there is so much said in that story
than is not stated. For starters, what goes unsaid is that despite the plot against his life
Jesus is returning to the area around Jerusalem – he is accepting his fate and the story as
it will and must unfold. And this is the strongest symbolism and inference that comes
through in this passage – it is never said out loud precisely, but it is very clear that Jesus
is about to die. There is the obvious reference to his no longer being with them, but there
is too the anointing of his feet. This alludes to the anointing of the corpse at the time of
burial. The amount of perfume used shines a light ahead to Nicodemus and his anointing
of the body of Christ after his crucifixion with aloe and myrrh. Nicodemus too will use an
excessive amount to anoint the now dead Jesus. And Mary’s anointing also points forward
to the occasion where it is Jesus who will be at the feet of his disciples washing their feet
to illustrate his and our servant nature.
And remember that excessive amount of perfume Mary used to anoint Jesus? That has a
second meaning. In Ancient Israel oil and perfume were used to anoint a king and the
quantities Mary uses infers that she is conducting a royal anointing – it is a reference to
Jesus’ royal or kingly nature and status. Nicodemus’ actions will echo this in a kingly burial.
Lastly, but no less importantly, John in his story in tying Jesus’ death and his kingly status
together is alluding to what his listeners would already have known – that the tomb was
actually not a place of death, but with the resurrection a place of glory.
So alongside being a tale of Jesus visiting friends this gospel reading is also about the
imminence of Jesus death, his Kingly standing as portrayed here and reaffirmed at his
burial, the tomb not as a place of death and mourning, but of hope and glory and it
anticipates the role of the servant Jesus will exemplify and act out with his disciples.
Sometimes we take for granted that the Gospel writers were master storytellers. We fix
on the fact that these saints blessed us with the good news of Jesus Christ and told us
about the Son of Man - the Son of God. But what they told us was stories. Not in the sense
of a made up fiction, but in the sense of meaning and plot, importance and retelling. The
gospels are stories in the best possible sense, rich in meaning and symbolism and
This is why we are called to not just read or remember scripture, but to study it and learn
about it. We only get the full extent of the gift we have been given in these stories when
we can understand them beyond their basic words and into the layers of meaning and
hope they offer. This is why we encourage you to do things like join a home or study group
or to buy a study Bible. There is so much we gain in our lives by having faith and knowing
the stories we treasure about God thousands of years after they were written. But we are
truly blessed when we can see these stories for all that they are and all that they tell us.
Paul often calls us to grow in Christ and we do this by having faith and attempting to act
and be as Jesus called us to be. We grow too, however, when we grow the stories of
scripture in our lives. When the words and tales carry depth and richness for us. When
we can understand the power and the mystery a two thousand-year-old word carries.
So as Christians we are called to, and we are blessed by, deeply understanding the words
and events of scripture. What we must also do is know enough to be able to translate the
meaning of scripture to this day and this place – if not the exact words then what we may
take from them. The Bible is a living document, it speaks to us as clearly and fully today
as it did to the early Christians and untold followers of Christ through the centuries.
There is a lot we could take from today’s gospel and bring into the here and now. There
are many lessons to be learned, but I think one we may choose to reflect on today is the
rich complexity of stories. Because stories have not stopped having many meanings and
untold symbolism and significance.
The tales, anecdotes and experiences we share with one another today are so much more
complex then we often give them credit for. In a world of ultra-fast interconnectivity, a
world of a billion stories on social media and a world of global communication we
sometimes don’t have the time to remember that what someone is sharing with us means
so much more than what it says.
The next time someone you know – or even someone you don’t know – shares a story
with you about themselves or their life don’t forget that there is so much more to that
story than the words it comprises of. There will be individual and shared symbolism in
what they speak or write of, there will be parts of the story untold for reasons we cannot
fathom and there will be meaning to words and events, people and places that are not
obvious to start with and may take us time to realise. So the next time you hear a story –
of joy or of pain, of birth or of death, of you or of them – remember to take time to think
about what is truly being said to you. Even the simplest exchange can be an entire story
in itself – why did that stranger smile and say hello? What did it actually mean to that
person to put that smiley face in their text message. Not every exchange has the depth of
meaning of the gospels or a Russian novel ☺ but many more than you think will.
There was a video that trended on Facebook years ago. It was called Look Up [see below] and it was
two stories. One story was of the life of a couple that meet on the corner of a street and
then grew a life and a family together. The other story was of two separate people who
one day passed each other on the corner of a street, but did not see each other because
they were looking down so intently at their cell phones. So when you read scripture, when
you read the magnificent stories of the Gospel and when you we listen to your brothers
and sisters in Christ remember – in all senses of the word – to look up.
Thanks be to God.