To Love or Not to Love
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 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. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (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.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” John 12:1-8
To love or not to love, that is the question posed in this morning’s gospel. And we answer that question every minute of every day. And we do that both as individuals and as a society.
Our answer to the question orients our way of being, guides how we live, determines what we do, and chooses the words we speak. Ultimately, our answer reveals whether or not our life is aligned with the life of Jesus.
Mary answers the love question in one way and Judas answers in another way. In silence Mary anoints the feet of Jesus and the fragrance of her love fills the entire house. Judas questions, criticizes and schemes. Mary loves while Judas calculates. God loves and Satan calculates.
Too often we understand love to simply be an emotion, a positive feeling, or an attraction. While this can certainly be an aspect of love it is not what determines love. Whether or not we love does not ultimately depend on our emotions but rather on our seeing. Despite the old saying that love is blind. Seeing and loving are always related. It is, strangely enough, our emotions that can blind us and keep us from loving.
Our faith teach us that love is borne from freedom from the obsessions, compulsions and the emotional agendas that often control and determine our life and the choices we make. Love is always borne of freedom and is the ultimate expression of our freedom.
Freedom is what distinguishes Mary and Judas. Mary is free of emotions. The pouring out of her perfumed oil is the pouring out of love. Judas, however, is filled with and possessed by his emotions.
Saint John tells us that Judas is a betrayer, a thief, and cares nothing for the poor. A barrel of emotions camouflage and give rise to those three descriptions: self-interest and self-seeking, greed, fear, anger, jealousy, indifference, disappointment, and regret. Whatever it is that grips Judas, he is blind and unable to love.
Yesterday the administration declared that this nation is full and that there is no room for refugees and asylum seekers. The law and order would be leader is once again demonstrating his sheer contempt for the law.
To close the borders is, in fact, to break the law. Both national and international law mandate that neither this nation nor any other nation can close its borders in the face of those fleeing for their lives. That is the law. Entrance must be allowed.
Not to mention the fact that the statement is a patent lie that has no grounding, given the reality of the vast unoccupied acres of land that are contained between the oceans that define our eastern and western borders. If there is anything that we have plenty of – it is room. If there is no vacancy it can only be in our hearts.
Can we actually believe that the richest and most powerful nation in the world does not have the resources to create and staff compassionate hospitality centers where people are genuinely cared for and kept safe as their cases are processed? Mary had a spacious heart that manifested abundance. Judas had a heart in which a “no vacancy” sign was permanently hung.
How we see determines how we love. Seeing deeply and truthfully, penetrating below the surface, enables love. Look at the world. If you see the beauty, the wonder of creation, and the manifestation of God’s self, you will love the earth. If you simply see physical matter, impersonal stuff, or material objects chances are you will not love the earth.
Look at the stranger. If all you see is another nameless, faceless individual in the crowd you will likely not love. You may, in fact, tear children from the arms of their parents. It was reported this morning that it will take the government two years to reunite those families that have been ripped apart in an act of cruelty paralleled only by the violation of the families of slaves in the pre-Civil War south.
If, however, you see a unique person, one created in the image and likeness of God, a brother or sister cherished by the same God who cherishes you – if you take the time to know the stranger, you will know yourself to be a lover.
Yesterday, at a seminar in Lakeville, CT, we listened to the story of Maria a young mother of three whose husband, Diego, was taken from their home by ICE at 5 in the morning. He was placed in detention in Orange County for seven months. He was released on a $10,000 bond to await some final disposition of his case. As he waits he is not allowed to work or to drive. His crime – none. His entering the country at age 17 in a flight to save his life was not criminal, but merely a civil infraction. And yet his children had to visit their father in prison and suffer the terror and live with the momory of such an experience.
Fortunately, Vecinos Seguros, an organization like UIDN, and Trinity Church are there to support and accompany him and his family as they live thru this nightmare with no assurances as to its final outcome.
The seeing that leads to love does not happen with our physical eyes but with the eyes of the heart, the deepest and innermost part of our self, the very center of our being. Mary’s heart has been awakened and she sees what Judas cannot. The heart of Judas is asleep. He is unable to see what Mary sees. Mary sees the way, the truth and the life. Judas sees opportunity and profits. Mary pours out all that she is and all that she has. She holds back nothing. Judas only wants to take and keep for himself.
How can this be? Mary and Judas are in the same house, eating the same dinner, with the same people. They are both in the presence of Jesus and yet they see two very different realities that draw them to two very different responses. Our emotional, personal and political agendas distort reality. We see the world, not so much as it is, but as we are. What we see and how we love, in many ways says more about us than about the object of our seeing and loving.
That is what this whole season of Lent has been about. It is a season that would school us in love. The question of love has been the unspoken question in each of the Sunday gospels throughout this Lent:
the temptations in the wilderness;
the tears shed by Jesus and his lament over Jerusalem; His prophetic call to repent that we might not perish; the prodigal son’s coming to himself and returning to his father.
Every one of those gospels is about the reorientation of our life to be and become a lover. That reorientation to become a lover, the choice to love or not to love, is made explicit in the images of Mary and Judas.
As easy and tempting as it might be, we do ourselves no favor by condemning and dismissing Judas. Jesus didn’t. So why would we? The condemnation and dismissal of Judas is the condemnation and dismissal of ourselves. Judas is as much a part of us as Mary. Mary and Judas are images and archetypes of ways of being. Both personas live within us. Both teach us something about our selves. Sometimes, I am Mary and sometimes I am Judas. In some of us Judas clearly has the ascendancy and we are left to wonder if any of Mary is present.
Each of us could name situations when our own “stuff”. Our baggage and emotional agendas got in the way of our loving. They are times of regret and disappointment, times when our heart was asleep, and we were less than we wanted to be.
We can also tell about those times when we bypassed efficiency and practicality, ignored what made sense, didn’t just settle for just doing or say the right thing, but choose instead to pour ourselves out on the life of another.
We saw a greater need and a deeper reality. We held back nothing. Our heart was awakened and we fragranced the entire world. Such a response is being called forth from us at this time in response to the humanitarian crisis both at our border and in this city.
These experiences of Mary and Judas teach us about our selves and the choices we have made. If we are willing we can learn from them. We can begin to see patterns of who and how we love. We can discover what got in the way, blinded us, and prevented love. They remind us that wherever we go, whomever we are with, whatever we are doing, there is a choice to be made. To love or not to love.
The Rev. Frank J. Alagna
April 7, 2019