Sacred Soil

Monday of Holy Week: Beauty & Judgment
April 14, 2014, 4:46 pm
Filed under: Weeds

John 12:1-12

Six days before the Passover, Judas is angling for money. He’s upset that Mary has poured out a costly perfume on Jesus’ feet, when those funds could be used for the poor. Or, rather, to line his pockets.

Setting aside his true desire to pilfer that money, Judas’ question seems worth asking. Why, when there is so much suffering, should we spend our money to fill the house with the smell of perfume?

When I was a child, my mother had this uncanny ability to rent the cheapest home in the best school district. She budgeted tightly, making most our food from scratch, urging us to eschew current fashion. We lived a fairly simple life, though I’m sure there were many places for us to save money. But, for many in my neighborhood, the calculations were different. In their nicer homes, money cushioned life. Budgets were important, but things like purchasing brand-name shoes required little, if any, thought. Many never had to question why the little label at the back of their shoe was so important.

But, I remember well, coveting that little blue label on the back of my white canvas shoes. I’d even drawn it in with blue ink. My peers were not impressed.

Judas’ question carries different weight for me when asked of my mother, vs. my former neighbors. And, that’s me being a bit judgy. And if I’m honest, I want to urge Judas to keep asking when I have decided folks are being wasteful. But, I want him to lay off when he’s talking about my mom.

I could assume a bit of moral superiority here–because we know that there’s a lot of waste in the world. But, it would be short-lived. Eventually, I succumbed, using my own money to buy a pair of name-brand shoes, with a real blue label in the back. And I did it for the singular desire that my peers would leave me alone. This isn’t just a jr. high student’s strategy–over and over again, folks make choices about what they buy not based simply on their physical needs, but on what will garner respect. Because, it’s a pretty simple equation we often forget: you’re not going to be able to earn more money if folks don’t respect you when you walk in the door.

And that’s what’s so maddening about Judas’ question. It attempts to create a clear pathway: caring for the poor is right, perfume is wrong. But, the reality is that the pathway is not so clear. The reasons we purchase things are complex–and figuring out right and wrong is rarely simple. I could give you 20 examples of how we’ve attempted to “help” poor folks that have completely backfired, and I could give you several examples of how even the simplest purchases we make undermine some of our most basic values.

And, I don’t know if Mary purchased the perfume from a locally sourced artist who created the scents in small batches, selling them at a cost that allowed a modest living wage. The text doesn’t tell us that. But, I do know that the moment was stunning–the room filled with the smell, the one who would die, anointed and prepared for his dying. It was overpowering, and beautiful. Beautiful for the wholeness of the story, beautiful for the devotion and care.

It is my hope that as we enter into this Holy Week, that we would know the scent of this beauty. May this beauty prepare us as well, filling our nostrils with the intensity of it. Because Holy Week is not a time for the judgment of right practice–but a moment to behold the enormity of this beautiful story, a story that is more complex than we can imagine. A story that will leave us forever changed.

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