Tuesday, April 6, 2009
Six days before Passover Jesus came to Bethany,
where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.
They gave a dinner for him there, and Martha served,
while Lazarus was one of those reclining at table with him.
Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil made from genuine
aromatic nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them
with her hair; the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.
Then Judas the Iscariot, one of his disciples,
and the one who would betray him, said,
"Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days'
wages and given to the poor?" He said this not because he cared
about the poor but because he was a thief and held the money
bag and used to steal the contributions. So Jesus said, "Leave her alone.
Let her keep this for the day of my burial.
You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me."
The large crowd of the Jews found out that he was there and came,
not only because of him, but also to see Lazarus,
whom he had raised from the dead. And the chief priests plotted
to kill Lazarus too, because many of the Jews were turning away
and believing in Jesus because of him.
Judy Henry McMullan
To me, this story always feels so out of character for Jesus. It seems strange that Jesus would admonish Judas for challenging those around him to be attentive to the needs of the poor. After all, was not justice for the poor a central theme of Jesus' message? Equally strange is the fact that Jesus allows Mary to use her resources to care for him in such a luxurious way. Was it not Jesus who poured himself out on our behalf, to the point of accepting death on a cross? How odd that he would instruct Mary to keep this expensive perfume for his burial…But he did.
This passage, like so many other stories in the scriptures, is one that challenges us to go deeper, to open our minds and hearts, in order to hear that which is not so obvious. As I read it again, I find myself being drawn to the perfume that Mary administered. This perfume, the scripture writer makes a point of telling us, was so fragrant that it filled the house with what I imagine to be a most beautiful aroma. Combine that with Mary's loving care for Jesus and you have a poignantly beautiful scene… Might that be it? Are we being called to contemplate beauty? St. Francis, in his writings, reminds us, time and time again, that the beauty of nature is the very manifestation of the beauty of God. The beautiful and luxurious nature of the nard oil, along with the generous and self giving actions of Mary, should remind me of the beautiful, generous and self giving nature of our God.
Don't get me wrong, I don't believe this passage is meant to excuse my inattention to the very real needs of the poor in favor of contemplating beauty. As a Christian, a preferential option for the poor has to be central to who I am. But, (and I openly admit this is a challenge for me) I must also balance my concern for the poor with an appreciation for the sheer beauty of God and God's creation. It's that beauty that must ground me in all that I do. It's that beauty that reveals the true nature of the Kingdom which we have been charged with bringing about. It's that beauty that should help me understand that God does not invite (nor should I) the poor to a table filled with "just enough to eat"; God invites us all to a banquet.