To my fellow pilgrims in this season of Lent
Last Sunday, I was delighted to be part of a warm and wonderful time of worship that was centred around a vision of being “all-in” with God who, through the humble birth and painful death of Christ, has certainly demonstrated that God is “all-in” with us.
In John 12:1-8 this week, we see that idea come to life in the picture of Mary kneeling before Jesus – her Teacher, her Saviour, her Friend – in humble adoration. As she looks upon feet that have walked the length and breadth of her world and that will soon be wounded for love’s sake, she, in an extravagant and unselfconscious act, removes the stopper from an alabaster jar and anoints them with a fragrant treasure, wiping his feet with her hair.
Judas recoils with horror at the waste.
He’s not upset about her blatant disregard for rabbinic law which allowed for only a few drops of inexpensive oil to perfume the water used for foot-washing by a really caring and hospitable host. Neither is he referring to the waste of what was probably her only inheritance and the economic implications that such an act would have on her future security as an unmarried woman. He is really bemoaning a lost opportunity to “give money to the poor” while lining his own pocket.
I recoil too. Not at the waste, but at the intimacy and humiliation implicit in her act. At the thought of spending time on my knees on a hard floor. At the idea of touching someone else’s calloused feet. At the image of my freshly-washed-every-morning hair clumped together in oil, wet with my tears. At imagining all of those men standing, watching, gaping in judgment over me.
Being a decent-enough disciple is not terribly difficult. Especially when we can use the priorities of God’s kingdom to advance our own agenda, reinforce our opinions of others through “God’s words”, satisfy our needs for belonging and affirmation, and create our own little piece of heaven here on earth for others who know how to behave appropriately in our space.
But being “all-in” with God in the way that Mary was in that moment of pure and unashamed devotion – well, that just makes me uncomfortable. How about you?
Fast forward a few weeks in your imagination to the well known stories that we will again hear over Holy week and Easter:
~ of Judas whose love for money and whose own ideas of what the Messiah should do leads him to betray Christ with a kiss, to regret his choice, and to hang himself in sorrow;
~ of Mary whose love for Jesus leads her to the foot of the cross; a witness of his death and then, after taking a similar vial of perfume to his tombstone to tend to his body, of his resurrection.
This week in Lent, I invite us to sit with these two characters and the discomfort that each of them may bring us as we consider what it might cost us to be “all-in” with God – and what it might cost us if we aren’t. And, in our discomfort, may we encounter God’s unconditional, extravagant love which accompanies and sustains us in the searching and the questioning, the wondering and the wrestling. For God is “all-in” with us regardless of whether or not we’re quite there yet.
Yours, in Christ,