During this season of Lent—a time to engage with our own mortality, practice self-examination, and spend time with God—Christians around the world meditate on Jesus’ journey from life to death and from death to resurrection. We wrestle and sit with questions that followers of Christ have been asking since antiquity: what does it mean to follow Jesus, really? And how might we be falling short of that?
In all the richness of this week’s gospel story, I constantly return to the fact that what we’re really reading about is a group of friends having dinner together. We enter this scene of a party thrown for Jesus and his friends, and in this context we get an idea of what it looks like to follow him: to speak out against unjust systems, to be in relationships with one another, and to take time to feast.
In this story, Judas’s oppressive and greedy behavior stands in juxtaposition with Mary’s expression of care and Jesus’ radical and revolutionary love. Mary anoints Jesus’s feet, using her hair to massage them with precious perfume in a tender moment of pure devotion. More than that, she participates in the ancient tradition of anointing something or someone to mark it holy, healed, and protected, perhaps as preparation for Jesus’s death that he foretells moments later: “You will not always have me.”
But Judas immediately questions her behavior and the use of the perfume. He may have expected the greed behind this condemnation to go unchecked, protected by the gender politics of the time. He relies on misogyny to mask his hope of putting money in his own pocket. He uses a woman and the poor, who he pretends to care for, as objects of his own greed, exploiting oppressive systems in the hopes of self-gain. Yet as he does constantly throughout his ministry, Jesus admonishes the systemic injustice that Judas takes for granted with his signature brevity and audacity. He refuses to allow Mary or the poor to become pawns in Judas’s plan and asserts that they are subjects of their own right. Jesus reminds us over and over that God stands with the oppressed and marginalized, and we are called to do the same.
Seeing how clearly John’s gospel condemns Judas’s motivations and how quickly Jesus shuts him down, I am reminded that our call to serve the oppressed is more holistic and relational than simply giving away our cash as Judas wants to suggest. While giving alms is an ancient and important practice, we are constantly called and re-called to be in relationship with the poor. As Jesus says in this passage, the poor will always be with us, and we ought to be with them.
Finally, we are called to feast. Serving on Trinity’s Brown Bag Lunch Ministry team as an Episcopal Service Corps Fellow, I spend a lot of time thinking about food and what it means to break bread in community. Food is both a basic thing we all need to survive and—especially when shared and eaten together— a symbol of something far beyond itself. Even amidst all the radical work of justice and charity Jesus practices throughout his ministry, some of my favorite stories about him are when he interacts with people in their full humanity. Even as he knows and foretells of his coming death at the hands of state-sanctioned violence, he eats, drinks, and rests with friends. They take time to feast together so they can wake up the next day and continue on.
This week especially, I want to challenge myself to follow Jesus in this way. The injustices and systems of oppression in our world are countless. I pray to not shy away from speaking out against them and recognizing when I fail to do so. I hope to authentically be in relationship with those around me and to break bread with all members of my community-- to feast, to rest, and to do it all again tomorrow.
Join Mary in the ancient practice of anointing, and come to our Maundy Thursday family meal and foot-washing at St. Paul’s Chapel on April 18 at 5:30pm. Invite a friend to join you and spend time in relationship with members from all parts of our community.
SK Doyle joined the Justice and Reconciliation team at Trinity in the fall as a fellow with the Episcopal Service Corps. She works with other Trinity staff to coordinate the Brown Bag Lunch Ministry. SK graduated from the University of Virginia where she studied English and Religious Studies. She previously worked at Thistle Farms Magdalene in Nashville, TN, and as a youth minister in Charlottesville, VA.
Each Sunday in Lent, Trinity staff and community members are offering personal takes on the intersection of faith and social justice action. Check back each week for insights into how you can get inspired, involved, and make a difference this Lenten season—and beyond!
April 7, 2019 Readings: Isaiah 43:16-21, Psalm 126, Philippians 3:4b-14, John 12:1-8