When I sat down to write about this weekend’s Palm Sunday readings, I realized it was going to take more than one reflection to cover it all. Mark’s version of the Passion may be the shortest, but it’s still lengthy enough that us Catholics actually get to sit to hear it proclaimed.
Like many stories in our Christian experience, the story of Christ’s passion is so familiar that we can take the individual scenes for granted. Palm Sunday, and the Holy Week that follows, invite us to see these scenes with fresh eyes, as if for the first time.
For example, I’d never noticed before that the Passion includes the story of the woman who anointed Jesus with expensive perfume. I’d certainly never noticed that the scene took place in the home of Simon the Leper. He was socializing with the unclean outcast of society. One wonders how his disciples felt about being there. Folklore identifies the woman with the alabaster jar of perfume as Mary Magdalene, or the woman caught in adultery whom Jesus saved from being stoned to death. But Mark doesn’t name her or connect her to either character. She’s just a woman who clearly adored Jesus.
How Jesus responded to her extravagant show of emotion toward Him reveals much about God’s willingness to receive our love on our terms. It also reveals to me that God calls us to show our Christian love in many ways, and not to judge those many ways as “inappropriate.” I recently found myself caught in that trap. There’s another Catholic church in town that recently went through a massive and very costly renovation. I heard a lot of criticism about the amount of money that was being spent on materials and decor, and I admit I participated in it, even though I knew nothing about this church and had never even stepped foot inside. Couldn’t they have accomplished their goals without spending millions on pricey stained glass and statuary? Wouldn’t all that money be put to better use on behalf of Haiti or the many ministries our parish’s serve?
Then, out of curiosity more than anything else, I went to see the renovations myself. They were worth every penny. That church is an absolutely gorgeous reflection of the creativity and love of the hands that built it. Although it is quite modern, it is as beautiful as any cathedral strewn with icons and religious paintings. It is warm and inviting, and even the meeting rooms and “business” spaces in the basement downstairs are a testament to the parish’s ability to minister to its congregation and the whole church community in our city. I’ve gone from sitting in uninformed judgment to humbly, gratefully eating crow. Their chapel is my favorite place to pray.
I never before notice that it is immediately after Jesus corrects the judgmental apostles who criticize the woman’s extravagance – reminding them that the poor will always be with them – that Judas went to the chief priests and conspired to turn Jesus in. He’d had enough of lepers and waste. Clearly Judas was a purist, dare I say ideologue? He certainly didn’t share Jesus’ vision for their mission.
Does my agenda for what the City of God “should” look like get in the way of my ability to love?
When those around me don’t play by my rules or express God’s life in them in a way that makes me uncomfortable or jealous or fearful or angry, do I act like Judas and reject them? Or do I embrace the myriad ways in which we all come to recline at table with our Lord? Do I practice the acceptance that Jesus demonstrated?