So, we know we are getting close to Holy Week when we have this passage from John’s Gospel. In fact, the narrative we read today of Jesus visiting the home of Mary and Martha, where Mary anoints Jesus’s feet falls on Holy Monday, the Monday in Holy Week. In many ways this passage screams Holy Week. We can feel the tension in the home of these two sisters. It is as if everyone knows what the week ahead has in store, but no one dares mention it or talk about it. No one is talking much. Martha is serving the meal. Mary takes some costly perfume and anoints Jesus’s feet. Lazarus, the very Lazarus that was raised from the dead is at the table too. It is Judas who breaks the silence and complains about the waste of perfume and resources on Jesus’s feet. Cause all of a sudden, he seems to be concerned about the poor.
I will confess that I have stopped being surprised about how many conflicts seem to emerge when money is involved. In marriage preparation when I council couples before the big day, we spend a lot of time talking about money and our habits with money. Because as we all know, if we ain’t able to talk about money before we get married, we sure ain’t going to be talking about it after the fact.
The same is true for us as a Church. We can get so caught up and anxious about money. How much we have or don’t have. Where we are spending money verses where we are not. We go around in circles talking and discussing about whether one project is worth doing more than another. Which quote is best, or reasonable and on and on it goes. The truth is, as I have said before, we will never have enough money for what we want. But we will always have enough for what we need, with more to share. Cause that is how God works. It’s called God’s economy when we discern what our priorities are for how God is calling us to serve as a Church in the world. When we get the priority right, the money follows every time.
When we do hear from Jesus in today’s gospel, this is essentially what he is saying to Judas and to us. We need to focus and pay attention to what really matters. What really matters is the big picture and the fact that we are about to witness the trial and execution of Jesus. All of a sudden, we get a bit more perspective - don’t we. All of a sudden, our priorities shift to focus once more on God and God’s plan.
Jesus does surprise us in his response. Just a little bit. He doesn’t side with Judas and his ‘virtuous’ concern for the poor which we may have expected. One of the biggest critiques of the church, perhaps even ours, is that we are not doing enough for the poor. People love to find a scape goat when the pain of their lives is too much. Whenever the Church feels bad about itself, or feels it is not doing enough or wants to look busy inevitably a food bank project will quickly take root. Oh, how we love to feel concerned about the poor or almost anything else when the immediate is too hard to bare.
While there is nothing wrong with paying attention to the needs of the poor and world, today Jesus encourages us to see further than the immediate. We are to focus on the bigger picture, because it is about context.
We stand at the turning point in Lent where our attention shifts from an inward focus to an outward one where we begin to see the cross take shape. Everyone in that house knows what lies ahead for Jesus. The future is immediate, yet uncertain at the same time. Mary anoints Jesus’s feet. A symbolic action and one reserved for the anointing of the dead. Her action speaks louder than words and sets the tone and mood for everyone; if they didn’t before, they know now what is at stake for them and Jesus. We know now what is at stake for us. We know now that to be a follower of Jesus it will take our whole self and life. For we too make our pilgrimage to the cross where we too die with Christ for God to do a new thing with us in the world.