Rev. Joshua D. Gill
I recently came across an article in the Atlantic called Why People Are Acting So Weird by Olga Khazan. In this short article, the author begins taking stock of some of the latest headlines. We all heard about Will Smith, but there are so many others. Last week, a man was arrested for punching a gate agent at the Atlanta airport. Or the guy on a flight to Austin who started threatening everyone around him. In the video, he tried to fight three guys at once. Another flight to Washington D.C. had to make an emergency landing in Missouri, and it took six people to subdue one unruly passenger. In February, there was a string of tantrums while people were skiing. They were trying to fight fellow skiers, attacking a security guard at one resort. Reports of reckless driving have gone up, and car crashes, murder rates, carjackings. One hospital has begun to outfit nurses with panic buttons after a string of patient issues. You have to wonder if someone tracked school board meeting protests, what that number would look like. You’ve got to ask yourself what the heck is even going on. The Atlantic points to many reasons for the uptick in this behavior.
Stress is one likely cause; Christine Porath, a professor at Georgetown University, collected data on why people act rude; the number one reason was the feeling of stress or of being overwhelmed. One of the things that we have seen from the pandemic is that people are teetering closer and closer to their breaking point. Ryan Martin, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, framed it in this way; “When someone has that angry feeling, it’s because of a combination of some sort of provocation, their mood at the time of that provocation, and then how they interpret that provocation.” People are encountering more “provocations”—staffing shortages, mask mandates—and their mood is worse when provoked.
Another major factor is an increase in substance abuse. One study from Massachusetts General Hospital pointed to a 21% increase in the use of alcohol and the isolation that many Americans felt. Robert Sampson, a Harvard sociologist, believes that “We’re more likely to break the rules when our bonds to society are weakened. When we become untethered, we tend to prioritize our private interests over those of others or the public.” Durkheim said that “we are moral beings to the extent that we are social beings.”
The vast majority of these incidents are not related to mental health, and 50% of our population will receive some mental health diagnosis in their lifetime. The pandemic caused an increase in anxiety and depression. 
Our text today is a familiar story. All four gospels report this story, but the details are slightly different in all of them. In the Gospel of John, Jesus is in Bethany at the home of Lazarus. The narrator immediately reminds you of who Lazarus is, the man Jesus raised from the dead, essentially wanting to continue the narrative that began in chapter 11. The thing to keep in mind as we hear this story, is that these people had just gathered to mourn Lazarus, a man who according to the text was dead for four days and his sister said smelled of death. This is what hangs in this text, death is haunting it. And Mary’s response to this sensational miracle is an act of faith. She covers Jesus’ feet in Nard. When you anointed a king you anointed their head; when you anointed the dead you anointed their feet. The scent of death that was hanging over the crowd would have been replaced by the scent of Nard. It would have expanded, it would have overtaken. Mary’s response to a miracle is faith and action. Contrast that with Judas whose response to this display is to question her act of devotion, to look out for his own needs and not the needs of others. It can feel like our world is full of Judases right now. People only looking out for themselves, people who are quick to anger.
But part of Mary’s example is about her focus — who is she focusing on? Her focus is on Jesus. She is looking at someone who is greater than her, who is a person of love and beauty, and she is taking her cue from that. Part of what we need now is to change our focus. Yes, we always need to acknowledge the bad and broken things, but we need to acknowledge them in the sense of longing for a new world. That if we see something broken, our response should be an act of faith to fix it, and brokenness should be heard as a calling. This is actually what Jesus points to when he tells Judas you will always have the poor. He is pointing to Deuteronomy 15:11 — “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.’” If the world needs more connection, the church and the people of God should respond by connecting to the brokenness of the world by expanding and adapting and growing to be what God’s world needs. We know beauty and love expand. We might see this when we have a response to a piece of art or a story about a random act of kindness. We just saw this in the passing of Betty White. In honor of her life the “Betty White Challenge” went viral raising just through Facebook 12.7 million dollars for animal shelters.
In a world full of Judases be a Mary. Seek to live a life of devotion that drives out the stench of death and calls all of us to new life in Christ.
 Jayne L. Miller, Wellspan: Community Mental Health Education Coordinator: Presentation Leadership York Mental Health and Wellness in our Community. 3.30.22