Said Judas to Mary: A Lavish Love
Episode 28 – April 7, 2019
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Referenced Articles & Websites
Sam Phillips – “Reflecting Light”
Reflection – “Said Judas to Mary” by Sydney Carter
Reading No. 1
John 12:1-8 Mary Anoints Jesus
Read by Martha Wood in Bracebridge, Ontario.
Reading No. 2
“On Giving” from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
Last Fall, I—along with thousands of people across the country—opened an email from our extended health benefits provider. We were told in the email the many amazing strides pharmaceutical companies had made towards curing Hepatitis C and cancer drugs that have significantly improved patients’ chances for survival. However, .those drugs are very expensive. Very, very, very expensive. And so, the benefits company suggested that perhaps there could—or should—be a time in the near future when massage therapy is taken off of extended benefits plans in order to offset the costs of these drugs.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, folks were fairly outraged about even the idea of losing their massage therapy benefits. Certainly, the RMTs were indignant. There were letters. There were Twitter wars. I’ve spent nearly all of my working life self employed and without health benefits, so the conversation didn’t immediately incite the same rage as it did for others. That is until I read this phrase:
“Now, if you were asked to give up your coverage for massages so that Becky could get the drugs she needs for her daughter to stay alive, would you? YES or NO” If you clicked “yes” on the graphic, a picture of a cute little girl smiled at you. If you didn’t, she looked at best sad and at worst…well, dead.
What kind of question is that? It just felt like there was a massive piece intentionally omitted from this conversation.
A little bit like our scripture passage today. Here we have Jesus visiting and eating with his friends, Lazarus, Martha and Mary. Mary takes out some very expensive perfume and spreads it over Jesus’ feet. Judas takes exception. “What extravagant waste! What a prodigal use of resources! This ointment should have been sold! It is worth an entire year’s wages! We could have given the money to the poor! You hypocritical woman!”
But Jesus is having none of that and comes to Mary’s defence: “Judas, you will always have the poor with you. But you will not always have me.”
Now, I have heard these words used to justify so many lamentable positions and actions taken against the poor and society. “Why try to create a stronger social safety net? There will always be poor people. Jesus said so, os it must be true.”
But that is not really what Jesus is saying here. Jesus is quoting, as Jesus often does, a piece of scripture from the Book of Deuteronomy—a passage that would have been recognizable by all those present at the table. I won’t read you the whole passage, but the gist of it is this:
Yes, poverty will always exist. There will always be poor people around those who have closed off their hearts to the poor. There will always be poor around those who will not share their resources. So, what Jesus is saying is “Yes, you, Judas Iscariot, will always have the poor around you. Because your heart is closed and your soul is cold to their plight.” In the Johannine account, Judas doesn’t really care about the poor. According to John, Judas is a thief. Judas is trying to deflect, to make the issue about something that it is not.
So, why do I bring Judas up alongside health benefits providers? Well, because it seems as if they were both using the same tactics. In the same way that Judas tried to make Mary feel guilty about wasting resources when there were so many people in need, this newsletter seemed to be placing the blame and ownership for lack of access to astronomically expensive lifesaving medication on people who were accessing massage services, completely dismissing the treatment and preventative benefits of massage, while also shifting the responsibility for access to these life saving resources away from pharmaceutical companies and private insurers. This company does not acutally get to decide if massage is ommitted from our benefits plan, but this company seemed to be implying that if Becky’s little girl cannot access her life-saving medication, it’s because we want something that is – quote – “nearly as good as taking a really good nap”, not because those providing the medication are being exploitive and the system through which pharmaceuticals are created and tested is deeply flawed. It is dishonest, and it is a deflection from a greater ailment which is being swept under the rug.
When this benefits company decided to target massage therapy, there was much outrage about it being classified as simply “indulgent”. Users pointed out that they used massage therapy treatment for intense chronic pain, to increase their range of motion, and to function without needing to take highly addictive opioids. I use massage therapy for a chronic spine condition and to prevent migraine headaches.
However, even if massage therapy was simply a way to relax, to rest, to take a break, to feel some relief from the day to day…I would be okay with that. There are so many academic studies and generations of inherited wisdom that demonstrate the benefits, the necessity really, of human touch; the flesh upon flesh interaction that our society has often sexualized and by extension made taboo. Some massage is a very sensual experience, and that sensory input—that human contact—that is healing. I do not think it was by any coincidence that the benefits company chose massage to target. Their people are smart people, and those smart people know how far we have dismissed and downplayed the necessity of human touch for health and well being. This same company has offered a health and wellness program that incorporates podcasts and videos about sleep hygiene, eating well, mindfulness practices and meditation. There is telephone access to counsellors if experiencing a crisis. But the idea that being therapeutically touched by another person is itself healing and healthful, that is just not valued.
Sitting in our story, it is one day before Jesus rides a donkey into Jerusalem. Lazarus has just been raised from the dead. It is six days before Jesus’ execution. Both Martha and Mary are serving Jesus. Martha is serving food. Mary’s service is in anointing Jesus. The smell of the nard would have been completely overpowering—you can imagine smashing an entire bottle of perfume to the floor. Mary is anointing Jesus for his burial. The scent of the nard would have clung to Jesus for days. Perhaps he may still have been able to smell it on the cross. A memory of an extraordinary act of love. Something to hold on to in his final moments.
Mary understands where this is all heading in a way that the 12 disciples do not. Mary anoints him for burial as a King may be anointed. And ultimately, it is the supposed claims of Jesus’ kingship which lead to his death.
And so we have Mary, who truly sees Jesus for who he is, and what is going to happen. She pours the oil on his feet. She lets her hair down. And she wipes away the extravagant gift in an extravagantly sensual way—her hair, perhaps intermingled with her tears. Her body as a comfort and a blessing. Make no mistake, this would have been a completely scandalous act! Jewish women did not let their hair down in public, nor did they touch men who were not their husbands. But she does it of her own agency. Of her own volition. Her presence and touch an act of sensuous care and compassion.
I know, because of emails I have received, that many of our listeners have read the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. There is a moment in the final book when Harry understands that he needs to be killed by Voldemort—“Neither can live while the other survives”—and the moment of death is coming soon. Harry becomes hyper-aware of his body’s function and sensation. He wonders how many more beats his heart has left. He feels the breeze upon his skin. Marvels at the sense of his feet on the ground. The movement of his hands. But he knows it will all soon be over, and laments that he never truly understood what a marvel his body was when we thought there was so much more time.
Jesus knows what lies ahead. He knows his days are numbered. Mary does too. So I wonder if, like a literary hero created 2000 years after his time, Jesus’ senses would have been even more heightened: The taste of the food Martha prepared. The spices. The texture of the bread. Or, the overwhelming smell of the rare perfume. The sounds of talking, clinking glasses, or grumbling. The sight of so many friends gathered – an unexpected living wake. And then the touch, the caress, of Mary’s hands. The softness of her hair. Perhaps her cheek passed across his heel. The flesh upon flesh reminder of Jesus’ very human and very fragile body. A body that will soon be shattered, shred and broken. Perhaps Jesus took his cue from Mary: ”This is my body, given for you…and it has already been anointed.”
In a moment, you will hear a song by British singer-songwriter Sydney Carter and performed by British folk group “Reflection”, imagining the conversation between Mary, Judas and Jesus. As you listen, I invite you to think about what is here to cultivate, what is here to let go, and where your senses take you.