Sunday, March 21, 2010

God's Purposes and our Preconceptions

Mary then took a pound of very costly perfume of pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of His disciples, who was intending to betray Him, said, "Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to poor people?" Now he said this, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it. Therefore Jesus said, "Let her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of My burial. For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me." -- John 12:3-8

After being bombarded with the message that God cares very much for the poor, this passage from the Gospel from yesterday's readings brings most of us up short a bit. We're used to Jesus speaking against extravagance, against accumulating wealth, and against enjoying life at another person's expense. And yet he speaks sternly to Judus Iscariot when he makes the quite reasonable (but disingenuous) objection that Mary is being way too extravagant in this anointing of Jesus' feet.

Beyond the prefiguring of burial that is in this story, it also demonstrates to me that we make a big mistake if we ever think we have figured out Jesus. Every time we think we know what God is going to say to us and go off before getting the full message, God brings us back and reminds us that we are not as smart as we think we are! In God's plan, money is a means to an end, not the end in and of itself. We can get so wrapped up in doing good things for others that such efforts can crowd out doing great things with others. The mission of the church, after all, is not to feed the poor, clothe the naked, heal the sick, or other good things. Such activities naturally arise out of the real mission of the church:
The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.
An excellent example of making sure that we are doing what we are doing as a result of our discipleship rather than as a replacement for it is put forth by Sara Miles in this short video:

Social service, then, becomes simply another aspect of worship and discipleship--we are simply translating that reconciliation process from the sanctuary to the soup kitchen (in the case of Sara's church, St. Gregory of Nyssa, they are the same space). As we continue to discern God's calling for us at St. Edward's, it might be well for us to consider how the three areas of worship, fellowship, and outreach might be knit together as a whole.

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