In yesterday’s sermon for Palm Sunday, or as I called it Turmoil Sunday, I said that this week would be one of conflict, confrontation, and choices. And that’s what we find in today’s gospel (John 12:1-11). Jesus is once again at the center of and provoking turmoil. This time the conflict is between gift and economy, relationship and transaction. I think that’s what’s going on between Mary and Judas. They’ve each made a choice. Mary is a lover. Judas is an economist.
Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples …, said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?”
When was the last time you did something for someone else without any expectations, with no strings attached, without any conditions or preconditions? There was no why to what you were doing. There was no particular reason, motive, or intention for what you did. You were just doing what you were doing because that’s what you were doing. When has someone done that for you?
Angelus Silesius, a seventeenth century German priest, writes about it like this:
“The rose has no why; it blossoms because it blossoms.
It pays no attention to itself, nor does it ask whether anyone sees it.”
What if we were to live and love like the rose, without a why? What if we blossomed simply because we blossomed. What if there was no motive or seeking to our blossoming? There was no desire to be noticed, to be praised, to be productive, or to accomplish something. What if we fragranced the world because we couldn’t do anything but fragrance the world? The rose is going to do what it’s going to do regardless of whether you or I see or smell it, what we think, or how we might respond. Its beauty and fragrance are not means to an end. It has no why.
That’s what I see in Mary. She loves because she loves. She anoints because she anoints. She fragrances because she fragrances. There is no why. It is all gift, “grace upon grace.” It is unconditional and without measure or calculation. She is not invested in a result or seeking a particular outcome. She’s not looking for a return on her investment. She’s just doing what she’s doing because that’s what she’s doing. She’s like a rose that blossoms because it blossoms. She’s breaking the chains of means and ends. And it makes no sense to Judas or any other economist. It looks reckless and irresponsible. There’s no profit in it.
Gift stands in contrast to economy like Mary stands in contrast to Judas. Judas is calculating and practical. He knows the market. He’s a shrewd investor looking for a return. He wants to turn Mary’s gift into a profit. Judas has a why. He’s aligned himself with a means and an end.
In the economies of our life everything has a why. Life and love are transactions and the sheet needs to balance. We analyze the costs and benefits. We become calculating and expect a return on our investment whether that investment is money, time, love, a good deed, or even our faith and prayer. We want to know what’s in it for us. So does Judas.
I don’t want us to make any conclusions or judgments about Mary or Judas. I want us to see ourselves through them and learn from them. What if both Mary and Judas live within us? What if they are two aspects of ourselves and two ways of living? What if they reveal the tension in which we live and the criteria by which we choose?
It’s too easy to simply judge Mary as good and Judas as bad, Mary as right and Judas as wrong. That, however, avoids the confrontation with our own lives that they hold before us.
Where is Judas in your life today? In what ways has your life become business as usual? What are the “whys” that keep you from blossoming and fragrancing the world? What would it be like and take to live a nonprofit life? And what if “the only measure of love is love without measure”? (Caputo)
Image Credit: By Ilyas Basim Khuri Bazzi Rahib (likely a Coptic monk). – https://art.thewalters.org/detail/17922/gospels-5/, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons.
Your gentle challenge inspires those who read it and listen to God in slient Contemplation for our personal answer.
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Thank you very much Irene. I hope you are having a blessed Holy Week.
Peace be with you,