Libby Caes' Homily from March 17, 2013

Holy Wisdom MonasteryHomilies Leave a Comment

Mary: a dangerous old woman

John 12:1-8

(Is.43:16-21; Psalm 126, Phil. 3:4b-14)

In the early 90’s ads began appearing in the New York Times for a new kind of hearing aid.

I am sure you have all seen ads for hearing aids: invisible, in your ear, cheap with catchy names…ads that make outlandish promises and probably with little to deliver.

This New York Times ad was for a new technology: digital hearing aids made by 3M.

Dave, my husband, would make sure I saw the ad. He told me that I should check it out. Each time I brushed him aside.

Finally, I said I would check it out and I called 3M…remember, these were the days before the web, and found out there was an audiologist in Philadelphia where we were living who had them.

I had actually hoped that they were only selling them in Florida!

My persistent husband told me I should make an appointment. I did.

The audiologist, Joel Mynders tested my hearing, asked about my daily activities and said that he thought these digital hearing aids would be a good fit for my hearing loss and my needs.

He was ready to order me a set.

But, there was a catch. I had to put down a 50% down payment.

The cost of the hearing aids?  Over $3,000.

I was in a bind. Remember, this is 1990’s dollars. And, our income was one salary, Dave working for a non-profit and I was in seminary.

Could I write a check for over $1500 without talking to Dave first?

Well, I reasoned to myself, he had suggested this in the first place.

Then I realized, I needed to do this for ME.

I wrote the check, for over $1500…

Arriving home Dave asked how the appointment went, I told him about it and how much these state of the art hearing aids cost. Then I dropped the bomb, “I wrote a check for the down payment”

You WHAT??? And, you didn’t talk to me about it first???

No, I hadn’t! (and we are still married!)


I wonder what it was like for Martha and Lazarus to watch Mary kneel down and anoint the feet of Jesus with perfume that was worth almost a year’s wages.

Were they thinking?

That perfume is worth all of our savings.

We could have used that money for_____.

Hey, that’s my retirement you are spending.

Wow! What a way for Mary to demonstrate our love and gratitude to Jesus.


By the way, those hearing aids transformed my life. For the first time in my life I could hear and carry on  conversations in noisy situations.

For those of you who are familiar with hearing loss, I finally had speech discrimination.


Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Let me give you a bit of background, to refresh your memory.

One time when Jesus visited their home, Martha had been upset because Mary was not helping to get supper on the table.

Recently Lazarus became deathly ill. The sisters had sent a message to Jesus to come ASAP. But Jesus didn’t show until several days after Lazarus died. When he finally makes an appearance, Martha gives Jesus a dressing down, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.”

Now, just a short time later, Jesus is back at their home…a thank you, hosted by Mary and Martha.

I imagine Mary and Martha going round and round…what do we do? How do we express our gratitude?


Psalm 126 expresses well how they must have felt:

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.

Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongues with shouts of joy;

The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.

They host a dinner, the best wine, the best food, the best everything. Like Babette’s Feast. And, of course, Martha  is serving.

Some things never change!

And, Mary the one who sits at the feet of Jesus does  more:

She lets down her hair in a roomful of men…something a honorable woman would not do.

Not only that, she anoints the FEET of Jesus…really strange. The head of kings are anointed, not their feet.

Not only that, here is a single woman rubbing the feet of a single man. Again, something that is simply NOT done, even among friends. (and, yes, I know there is a lot of fascinating discussion about whether Jesus was married…but let’s assume, for the moment, that he isn’t!)

Not only that, Mary wipes the feet of Jesus with her hair. A bizarre ending to a very bizarre event.

Why did Mary do it? Why this public, extravagant, excessive action??


Clarissa Pinkola Estes talked about the archetype of the Dangerous Old Woman.

One of the characteristics of the dangerous old woman is that she is very well grounded, she operates from her soul/her center.

The dangerous old woman does what she knows to be right. She doesn’t care what others think.

And, because she is this, she is DANGEROUS.

This is a great way to describe Mary and her actions.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes goes on to say that the Dangerous Old Woman is utterly reliable. She is not predictable but she is utterly reliable because her home is in her soul. Her heart leads her, her soul leads her.

And, here is Mary…doing something that is so crazy but also so right, so perfect and so utterly amazing. Done from her heart, her soul. Mary is Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ dangerous old woman.

This dinner happened six days before Passover. At the Passover meal, Jesus washes the feet of his disciples and tells them, “As I have washed your feet so you are to wash one another’s feet. As I have loved you, so you are to love one another”.

Do you suppose, that maybe Mary’s radical, bizarre, soul based action planted a seed in the heart of Jesus?

Do you suppose that Jesus followed Mary’s example when he washed the feet of his disciples?

Mary had learned to live from her soul.

Do we live from our soul center or do we live out the expectations of what our family, our culture, our church, our job, our parents, our kids want us to be?

Or, are we no longer willing to be put in a box,  no longer are willing to live up to the expectations of others?

Have we gotten to the place where we know the only thing we can do is be what God has created us to be?

Whole, unpredictable and also utterly reliable.

I have thought often this week of the new Pope, Frances. He knows who he is…living in a simple apartment in Buenos Aires, taking the bus, staying in touch with the poor, not giving in to the role of Cardinal. I wonder how he will navigate the Vatican. I hope he will retain his center, his identity and be a dangerous old Pope!

Mary upset the apple cart. Judas didn’t like it. But Jesus understood:

Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.

I wonder, too, what kind of conversations Mary, Martha and Lazarus had after that dinner was over and Jesus had left.

Did anyone have any idea how soon the day of Jesus’ burial would be?

Our Old Testament reading

I am about to do a new thing;

Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

Mary’s bizarre, extravagant, wonderful act of anointing Jesus feet with her hair is part of the new thing God is doing.

Our soul filled acts are also part of the new thing God is doing.

Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner from Burma, has a wonderful quote:

You should never let your fears prevent you from doing what you know is right.

Here’s the invitation:

Be dangerous old women and men of faith, no matter how young or old you are!

Be routed and grounded in the love of God and your soul.

And, never let your fears prevent you from doing what you know is right!

Who knows what will emerge when we live this way.

We will be part of the new creation God is calling forth.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *