Olam means "world" in Hebrew, and tikkun can mean several things but in this context, it most often means "repair." So, tikkun olam means "to repair the world." According to Jewish sages, it is what we are here to do.
If ever there was a time... We are often aware of the brokenness of things, that all is not right. Maybe our own personal lives are in a kind of disarray. Maybe we are concerned about the implications of things we see wrong with the world. Rarely, however, are we aware on such a global scale that the world is, indeed, broken. Repair a broken world? Just exactly how does one go about doing anything that grandiose?
The good news is that tikkun olam means "any activity that improves the world, bringing it closer to the harmonious state for which it was created." (chabad.org) Any activity includes all people-the scholar, the doctor, the farmer, the schoolchild. It is something in which we are all called to participate. That activity is, in fact, what we are here to do. We are active players, not passive spectators, in the grand scheme of things.
We have read the end of the story. We live Lent, we live our days, with the certain knowledge of that core Christian truth-Christ is risen! In the words of the Orthodox Troparion which will ring out triumphantly at Easter, "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tomb, bestowing life!"
And that is how it should be.
My sister, Rita, and I recollected yesterday on the Good Fridays of our childhood. It truly was that last flourish of Lent. Three hours of silence from noon to 3 pm-with eight children in the house! Then Stations of the Cross and our last meatless Friday, usually tuna fish casserole. Soon as that was over, however, it turned into Easter Eve. We knew what was coming and we were excited. Holy Saturday was spent cleaning the house, baking, laying out our dresses and hats for Sunday, polishing our patent leather shoes and dyeing Easter eggs. There was at least that one year that my sister, Terry, had a cigar box under her bed where she'd stashed every candy treat that she didn't eat in Lent. We all knew there was chocolate in our immediate future.
This Monday of Holy Week opens in the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus where Jesus and his followers have been invited to dine in celebration of Jesus' bringing Lazarus back to life. This home is the place Jesus most often stayed on his visits to Jerusalem. We can only imagine what it would have been like to have Jesus as a frequent guest, to recognize the sound of his footstep on the path, his voice in the doorway, to have been a part of the shared meals and stirring conversation. This meal, however, was different. "There they gave a great dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him."
The silent Mary who had sat at the feet of Jesus now rises. Whatever had first stirred within her as she earlier listened to her Lord, is now fanned into flame in the afterglow of her brother's life being returned to them. Some conversions are so overwhelming that words are inadequate; only actions springing spontaneously from within can suffice. Her actions are extravagant--"the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume"--and they combine the sensuous expression of great love with the reverent attitude of enacted ritual. She goes beyond an act of gratitude and love, for she anoints Jesus' feet. Throughout scripture and Hebrew tradition, those who were anointed were priests, prophets, and kings. In a truly prophetic stance, Mary unites the past, the present, and the future. She hearkens to the past as she reenacts Israel's anointings. She stands in the present as she expresses her love and gratitude for Jesus. And she prophesies the future as her actions point to the imminent passion and death of Christ.
The closing lines are worthy of note. The raising of Lazarus not only resolved the chief priests to kill Jesus, they planned to kill Lazarus as well. On that ominous note, we move to the two remaining days before Holy Thursday. The readings of those days lay out the betrayal by Judas.
An offering and an idea for you: In my scripture studies, I introduce to my students the Jewish idea of a Midrash, a kind of back story to what is happening in the biblical text. I encourage them to use their creative imagination to offer a mini story. Here's one you might enjoy...