This Week’s Lectionary Passage: John 12: 1-8
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3Mary 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. 4But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5“Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” 6(He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) 7Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
Several years ago a friend of mine forwarded me one of those prepared video streams with the background music that everyone emails around. I have to admit that many of them have very little substance and some are bordering on being downright hokey, but this one struck me. It told of a teacher who asked her students to list the Seven Wonders of the World and write about them. They began work and most of them came up with the same ones that most of us would: Egypt’s Grand Pyramids, The Taj Mahal, The Grand Canyon, the Panama Canal, the Empire State Building, St. Peter’s Basilica, and the Great Wall of China (yeah, I know, it depends on what list you’re using, doesn’t it?). But, to the point, one girl seemed to be having difficulty. The teacher asked her to read hers aloud so that maybe the others could help. Her answers to the question “What are the Seven Wonders of the World?” were these: to see, to hear, to smell, to touch, to feel, to laugh, and to love.
The story said that you could have heard a pin drop. What a really incredible answer! It’s more than just those biological senses that we have to make life enjoyable. Rather, those are the things that connect us to each other. Those are the gifts that give us a common humanity and draw us together. The ability to see, to hear, to smell, to touch, to feel, to laugh, and to love—any of them enable us to reach out and connect to the world around us.
This story is told in all four canonical Gospel accounts. But it’s never told the same way twice, illustrating yet again that the Bible is not an historical narrative but rather a way to connect us to God and to each other. The fact, though, that costly and seemingly extravagant perfumed oil is poured onto Jesus is always the same. So what does that mean? What could this costly nard mean in our relationship to God? I think on some level, it represents presence. It represents the way that we connect, the way that we relate. It represents the way that we love. After all, this story is all about presence and connecting with each other. They have a dinner together; they are served; Mary touches Jesus’ feet; Mary wipes his feet with her hair. (You will notice that in none of the accounts is Mary checking her email or texting her friend while she is doing this!) She is present–fully and completely present.
Sometimes I think that our society (myself included!) sometimes forgets what that’s about. What does it mean to be present, to fully and completely engage with another, to enter their world, to open yourself up to them, to who they are, to the God that you see in them? If each of us indeed has a piece of the Godself in us, an image of God in our being, then engaging with each other in this very moment is the very crux of our spiritual journey. It is the way that we journey to God, becoming aware of the moment and the experience that God has placed before us right now. Alfred North Whitehead supposedly once said that “the present is holy ground.” Maybe that’s what Jesus was trying to get across. “Look, look at me now, be with me now. Take this moment that God gives you now and feel it, for it is offering you each other–see, hear, smell, touch, feel, laugh, love. In other words, live loving God and neighbor with all your heart and your soul and your might, with everything that you have.”
On this Lenten journey, we are coming closer and closer to the Cross. Do not be afraid. Take each step as it comes and extravagantly anoint it. See, hear, smell, touch, feel, laugh, love. The point is the journey itself and what you do while your on it. Eternity is not “out there” somewhere. It is here, it is now, beckoning you on this path.
Grace and Peace,