April 3, 2022 The Forgotten by Rev. Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd


John 12:1-8


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to God.


Next Sunday will be Palm Sunday that will usher us into Holy Week. On Maundy Thursday, we will remember Jesus celebrating the Passover meal, his Last Supper, with his disciples. As part of that meal, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, illustrating his commandment (mandatum) for them to serve and love one another.


According to the Gospel of John, six days before the Last Supper, Jesus and his disciples went to the home of Lazarus, Martha and Mary for a special dinner. There, Mary surprised them by pulling out an expensive bottle of nard oil, worth one year’s wages, and anointing Jesus’ feet. In our gospels, Mary seems to be the only disciple who anticipated Jesus’ approaching death. Her choice of an oil used to prepare a body for burial seemed to have gone unnoticed by the rest—the only complaint was about the extravagant waste of money. It was not until Jesus pointed out the significance of what Mary had done that the disciples realized the prophetic action of Mary’s anointing. When Jesus washed the disciples’ feet six days later and told them that this would be their last supper with him before his death, I expect that the recent memories of the fragrant oil hung heavy.


Now let’s turn our attention to the complainer of the extravagant waste of money. His name was Judas, son of Simon Iscariot. He was one of the twelve disciples, pictured above me in Leo Mol’s stained glass. Leo Mol created this unique stained-glass portrayal of the Last Supper at the moment when Jesus said that one of them would betray him. We might quickly assume, from the bodily position, which one of these is Judas. But Leo Mol cautioned us, saying that Judas could have been any of the twelve he depicted above. He could have been the one draped in shadows with his back turned, scowling. Or he could have been the one incredulous, or the one filled with self-doubt, sure that it would be himself. He could have been the one filled with righteous anger.


Our gospels paint a condemning picture of Judas, but there is another gospel, called the Gospel of Judas, written in the mid-2nd century, only a few decades after our gospels were written, which paints a very different picture of Judas. In this Gospel, Judas is the only disciple who understands the deeper, spiritual teachings of Jesus. It suggests that Judas was strictly following Jesus’ instructions to betray Jesus. We will never know what happened, but one thing we can know is that Jesus consistently preached forgiveness and love for everyone—even for enemies who betray. Was Judas lost forever by his actions? I don’t believe so. Just as Jesus forgave Peter who betrayed Jesus, so I believe Jesus forgave Judas and welcomed him into paradise as he did the common thief hanging on the other cross.


Jesus had a knack of noticing the forgotten. He drew into his circle the least likely—those of ill repute, those whose wealth came from swindling, those who begged on the streets, and even those who were upright. What he repeatedly warned us against was judgement that cast a circle of insiders and created a caste of untouchable outsiders.


We are particularly susceptible to this type of judgement when we are incensed with righteous anger. It is the most dangerous type of anger because it comes with an uncompromising justification that cannot listen to another side. When I am condemning the relentless Russian attacks in Ukraine, I have to be so careful not to condemn Russians in general. When I phoned the two Russian churches in Winnipeg a couple of weeks ago, priests answered both of my phone calls and I had long talks with each of them. They were surprised and grateful to be remembered. One of them was speechless at first. They are heartsick over the war and are praying for peace. Their congregants are Russian and Ukrainian and many other nationalities. They told me that Russian churches in Victoria, Calgary and Toronto have been the targets of vandalism in Canada. They are the some of the forgotten.


Carol Howard Merritt is a Presbyterian minister whose faith was formed, in part, by a courageous act of her mother with someone who was a forgotten casualty in the midst of righteous anger. She was 15 years old at the time and had chosen not to attend church one Sunday—a day which proved momentous. Her mother came home from church just as their phone began to ring incessantly. No sooner had she hung up then it began to ring again. From her mother’s words, she began to piece together that their minister had confessed during the service to having an affair. He told them that he had succumbed to temptation but was ready to just move on. Well—he might have been ready, but the congregation wasn’t. They were in shock and the elders demanded a meeting that evening with the minister.


As the evening arrived, Carol’s mother stopped answering phone and began to pace, her mind in overdrive. She then called Carol and told her to get ready to go while she gathered towels and a large basin. They jumped in the car and drove a half hour to the minister’s home. It was dark, but Carol’s mother was undeterred, gathering the towels and basin and ringing the bell. They went inside and saw the minister’s wife, Margaret, sitting on a chair in the living room in the dark. Without a word, Carol’s mother filled the basin with warm water and returned to the living room to sit on the floor in front of Margaret. She slipped Margaret’s shoes off and gently lifted each foot into the basin, softly rubbing them and then drying them on a towel. Tears began to roll down Margaret’s cheeks and Carol and her mother found their cheeks damp as well. They all knew the agony Margaret was feeling, preparing to be the recipient of both pity and blame. Margaret had many life-changing decisions before her. Carol writes, “Mom wanted Margaret to know one thing in the midst of it. Margaret would be cherished, even to the end of her toes.”


Carol says that her faith was formed that evening, “not by the bitter betrayals, but in the love of the women.” Later in life, when Carol became a minister, she writes that she “thinks about that night each Lent, as we walk toward that treacherous path with Jesus.” She recalls how Mary took Jesus’ feet and baptized them with her tears and perfume. She prepared Jesus for his death with the knowledge that no matter what sort of trials he would face, he would do it realizing the love that soaked his skin. Carol concludes, “I think of all the times that…love had the ability to bathe toxic days and allow us to face injustice and cruelty.” [1]


Carol and her mother remembered the forgotten and bathed her in the love of their hands and their prayers. Who are the forgotten around us?

[1] Carol Howard Merritt, “Love and Lent” The Christian Century, March 17, 2012.