Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, March 17, 2013:

First Reading: Isaiah 43:16-21

Psalm: Psalm 126

Second Reading: Philippians 3:4b-14

Gospel: John 12:1-8

I've always had some amount of trouble with this Gospel reading; I suspect it's because I would have been that disciple who said, "Just think what we could have done with the money that went to buy that expensive oil. Doesn't Jesus know the electric bill is due? We could have helped the poor. And she went and poured it all over his feet!"

I know that traditionally we use this Gospel lesson to make us think forward a few weeks to Good Friday, when Jesus' dead body will be anointed with funeral oils. But there's still something about this Gospel that makes me restless.

Perhaps it is Jesus saying, "The poor you will always have with you." I'm uneasy with the way so many people through the centuries have used this line to justify their unwillingness to work to eradicate poverty. A shrug of the shoulders, that verse out of context, and poof, we don't have to worry about our riches.

I hear my own self-righteousness as I sit with my discomfort. I'm sure this passage addresses our impulse towards anger and self-righteousness. I can criticize the decisions of others in how they spend their money: "Imagine. She calls herself a Christian and she goes to get her nails done. She could do them herself at home and send the money she would have spent to Habitat for Humanity.” It's not always easy for me to know how to allocate my resources of time, money, and energy. I so rarely fulfill my plans of tithing time and treasure. Why am I so harsh to others who are similarly unsuccessful?

I want to be the woman who can live in the moment, the woman who actually uses the expensive oil, instead of saving it for a special occasion. I want to be the woman who understands that life changes quickly and often drastically, and loss waits at every turn. I want to be the one who worships and blesses and anoints, not the one who criticizes. But so often, I’m the one with the harsh voice, that voice that comes from a scarcity consciousness, not the one who speaks with the trust of the abundance of God.

On this St. Patrick’s Day, I think back to those early Celtic Christians, who seemed to be able to blend a fierceness with a zest for life. What can we learn from both the Gospel and the hardcore monks of early Celtic Christianity?

If you looked at the early life of St. Patrick, you would not think that he was on a path to be a great leader of the early church. He was born into a noble family, kidnapped, and sold into slavery — an experience which would later make him successful in God’s mission in ways he never could have anticipated. Because of his time as a slave, he could understand the language when he returned to bring Christianity to Ireland.

Are you more like the grumbling Judas, the woman with the expensive oil, or the fierce Celtic monks? Is there a way to integrate those personalities?

Many of us need the reminder that the woman with the expensive oil gives us: we need to take the time to be present with the ones we love. We need to give attention to God. But we also need the grumbling Judas to remind us that we cannot lounge about all night: there’s work to be done. Like those ancient Celtic monks, we have a rocky land to plow and transform.

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