Monday, March 29, 2010

What's in the heart is what counts the most (Monday of Holy Week, John 12:1-11)

Six days before Passover Jesus came to Bethany,
where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.
They gave a dinner for him there, and Martha served,
while Lazarus was one of those reclining at table with him.
Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil
made from genuine aromatic nard
and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair;
the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.
Then Judas the Iscariot, one of his disciples,
and the one who would betray him, said,
“Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages
and given to the poor?”
He said this not because he cared about the poor
but because he was a thief and held the money bag
and used to steal the contributions.
So Jesus said, “Leave her alone.
Let her keep this for the day of my burial.
You always have the poor with you,
but you do not always have me.”
The large crowd of the Jews
found out that he was there and came,
not only because of him, but also to see Lazarus,
whom he had raised from the dead.
And the chief priests plotted to kill Lazarus too,
because many of the Jews were turning away
and believing in Jesus because of him.

* * * * * * * *

Judas criticizes Mary for anointing Jesus’ feet, saying the money could have been given to the poor. One would expect Jesus to agree. Why should such a sum be wasted when it could have in fact been used to feed many. But that isn’t what happened. Instead Jesus turns to Judas and rebukes him, not because what he had said made no sense. But precisely because it made too much sense—at least in Judas’ calculating mind.

Poor Judas, up to this point, he still didn’t get it. He was still operating on the world’s calculations of investment and return. He had become too worldly for his own good, material concerns were still his priority. Mary anointed Jesus’ feet in what Jesus himself saw as a symbolic gesture foreshadowing the anointing he will receive at his death. But more than that it was an expression of Mary’s love for Jesus, a love that went far beyond the utilitarian calculus out of which Judas operated.

The gospel reading tells us why Judas found Mary’s action unacceptable. It wasn’t really because he cared for the poor, but because he stole money from the group’s contributions. Intentions and motives, as always, made all the difference. Mary’s action may have been extravagant, but her motive was pure. Judas’ indignation may have been understandable, even salutary, but his motive was impure. For God what is in the heart is what counts the most.

"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart." (Friedrich Nietzsche)