In the gospel reading, Jesus returns to Bethany, just outside Jerusalem, the home of beloved disciples. There, he goes to the home of Lazarus, over whom he once wept and whom he raised from the dead. They give a dinner for him, and Martha serves. Mary takes a precious perfume, worth about a year’s wages, and uses it to anoint Jesus’ feet, which she then wipes with her hair. Judas Iscariot objects to the waste, and when he does, the text points out his roles as thief and betrayer. Jesus responds with a reprimand and an explanation: Mary is right and her extravagance will not result in further deprivation for the poor—she is preparing Jesus for his burial. Do those present understand what has happened or what Jesus says? Probably not. How well do we understand it?
The “new thing” that Isaiah promises to Israel is, in the original context, an exodus from Babylonian captivity that would echo their Exodus from Egypt. God will once again provide a road through the wilderness for them and water to sustain them. The “former things” are to be put behind; the “new thing” will be something they have not yet seen or known. For us, as Christians, these promises now pertain to our full participation in the resurrection: we know God has done this before in Christ; we believe Jesus’ promises that he will come again to take us to himself; we do not know when or what that will be like.
Paul captures this hope with great conviction in his letter to the Philippians: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” Knowing Christ as risen and living empowers us to suffer as he does—and gives us the hope of rising and living with him. This will sustain us through the days ahead.