Lenten Reflections: Faith and Acts of Discipleship
By Claudette A. Reid
Six days before Passover Jesus went back to Bethany, where he had raised Lazarus from death. A meal had been prepared for Jesus. Martha was doing the serving, and Lazarus himself was there. Mary took a very expensive bottle of perfume and poured it on Jesus' feet. She wiped them with her hair, and the sweet smell of the perfume filled the house. A disciple named Judas Iscariot was there. He was the one who was going to betray Jesus, and he asked, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold for three hundred silver coins and the money given to the poor?” Judas did not really care about the poor.
He asked this because he carried the moneybag and sometimes would steal from it. Jesus replied, "Leave her alone! She has kept this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor with you, but you won’t always have me." (John 12:1-8, Contemporary English Version)
We are more than halfway through our Lenten journey, and it is time to confess that I have a love-hate relationship with Lent. Of course "hate" is not the best verb to use here but let me try to explain, and hope you’ll forgive me for not finding another word.
I love Lent because I get to focus more intensely on my journey with Christ. I get to appreciate that there is something personal and intimate about being asked to join Jesus on his journey to Calvary. That’s special. But I "hate" Lent for the very same reasons! Because the more time I take for spiritual introspection and serious contemplation, the more evident it becomes that I am utterly insignificant when compared to Christ. My sinfulness and my unworthiness seem more magnified during this season, and I’m forced to do my some “Spiritual Lenten Spring Cleaning.”
John 12:1-8 is, for many of us, a familiar story: Jesus’ anointing at Bethany. But even as I’m learning to be an advocate for the poor and marginalized in the hopes of eradicating poverty and injustice, I have a new problem. I find myself questioning why Jesus chose to declare: “…You will always have the poor with you… .” What’s more, here during my Lenten Spring Cleaning, I find myself in an embarrassingly awkward position, actually agreeing with Judas, the crook—God help me!
Although I unequivocally deplore Judas’ evil motives, I have been asking myself why Jesus didn’t encourage Mary to sell the perfume and use the proceeds for the poor. What was he implying, even as he endorsed and accepted the lavish (and seemingly improvident) indulgence from Mary? On the surface, it feels as if this is a hopeless condition leaving one to speculate: If Jesus, who knows all things, can say that we will always have the poor with us, why bother?
My questioning, albeit genuine, is momentary as I turn away from the questions in my head and focus on my heart. I’m relieved to discover that my faith will not allow me to cop out and settle for the status quo, because the Jesus who is being anointed days before his burial, is the same Lord who has directed us to provide for "the least of these." This is the same Jesus who, on numerous occasions, took great pains to ensure that the simple, common folk had their physical needs met.
Our faith journey and acts of discipleship do not ask us to choose between providing for the poor or offering ourselves as living sacrifices to God. Our faith and works are inextricably woven. It is true that we follow in the steps of the Jesus who healed the sick, fed the hungry, and comforted those who mourned. And this is the same Christ on whom we dare to lavish our praise and extravagant worship in gratitude for all that he has done on our behalf. Mary did just that.
As we contemplate the cost of Jesus’ death on the cross, I’m sure you’ll agree that he’s worth much more than a bottle of perfume.
Prayer: Dear Lord, thank you for your great sacrifice. Because you gave your all, we too, shall live! Help us to be willing to give our all for you, and for the poor whom you love dearly. Amen.
Claudette A. Reid is coordinator for women’s ministries with the Reformed Church in America.
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