Monday, March 17, 2008

Confession: Generosity and Stinginess

I am using the Vanderbilt Lectionary readings as the source of my Holy Week reflections. The reading for Monday is John 12:1-11.

12:1 Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.

12:2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him.

12:3 Mary 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.

12:4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said,

12:5 "Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?"

12:6 (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.)

12:7 Jesus said, "Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.

12:8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me."

12:9 When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.

12:10 So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well,

12:11 since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.

When I read this passage, I am struck by Mary's generosity toward Jesus and Judas' jealous carping about how it might have been better used. It's a familiar theme in human living, isn't it?

In our congregations, one person gives a work of art for the sanctuary and another person thinks the gift should be sold and the money go into the social action committee's budget. Or in a household, one partner's purchase is seen as too expensive and is criticized unkindly by the other partner.

Only in the Easter story, it's more serious than a congregational or family squabble about finances--it's the ultimate division between the human act of generosity and the human desire to look good while acquiring more for oneself.

One impulse is generated from within and the other is generated from outside the person. When we are freely generous, we are acting out of our best selves, desiring only to give whatever we have. When we are jealously guarding our resources, we act out of a fear that we aren't really adequate.

What is it about money that is so divisive? Mary is generous; Judas is greedy. Mary is grateful that her brother Lazarus is still alive; Judas is itching to get his hands on more cash. Mary has enough; Judas will never have enough and it will cost him his life. Mary's act of generosity is ridiculed and questioned by Judas. Jesus scolds Judas and praises Mary for her kindness. Judas is angry and continues to plan his revenge.

Sounds to me like a first century soap opera!


Mile High Pixie said...

Your recent posts are heavy, but worthwhile musings indeed. What is it about money indeed that makes us go nutso? We agonize over the right decision with any amount: do I save it? donate it? spend it? share it? invest it? Even my husband and I, well off by any standard, have our own heated discussions of how best to invest money, then feel guilty when we spend any on ourselves, reluctant to tell the other about it.

What I have found is that when I'm willing to give money away, I seem to have some even still. I've now automated my donations so that I can't forget to donate to worthwhile causes and do good as I do well.

Comrade Kevin said...

How tough it is for those who trust in riches to enter the Kingdom of God!