Courage to Choose Love

April 11, 2022

Isaiah 42:1-9 | Hebrews 9:11-15 | John 12:1-11 | Psalm 36:5-11


In today’s Gospel from John, we are invited to sit at the dinner table of Lazarus. Two of the prominent individuals at the dinner are Mary and Judas. Imagine for a moment that Mary and Judas are not distinct and separate individuals but instead are two different aspects of our human nature. Ponder for a moment the possibility that there exists aspects of Mary and Judas in all of us. That our human experience holds the potential for the transformation of these forces, either expanding or contracting their expression in our lives. Reflecting on these attributes within us can be somewhat of an ouch. It is difficult enough to acknowledge our shadow side, yet beyond identifying it, we are called to hold our shadow with radical acceptance (note – Jesus never tells Judas to leave the dinner, even while knowing that Judas is about to betray him). Because of its potential for ouch, this type of reflection needs to be grounded in compassion, no judgement, and in the knowledge and experience of God’s constant and unconditional love for us. Judas’ aspects within us, or the observation of them in the other, are not to be denied, extinguished, or canceled. In contrast, self-reflection, requires us to hold the tension of their presence without giving them expression. Whether we identify Judas’ qualities in our self or the other, we pray for the intention to do for ourselves and the other what Jesus did on the cross when he said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  With prayer, reflection, and unfolding awareness, we have a choice as to which character will reign in our being.

Judas has all the right words and actions. After all, he is concerned for the poor and wants to direct money toward their well-being. But his motivation is self-centered; his real intention is ultimately to serve himself. By today’s cultural currency, Judas’ behavior would be defined as transactional: giving something in order to get something for himself.

In contrast to Judas, Mary embodies the qualities of love. Her love is rule-breaking, spending extravagantly on the purchase of perfume to be used in anointing the body of Jesus after his death. In love and for love, she stands against the prevalent norms of her culture and community. Mary chooses perfume as a symbol and outward expression of her love for Jesus. The nature of perfume is such that once the container is opened, it can no longer be contained. The fragrance travels through the air and permeates all that surrounds it. As it is breathed in, it becomes part of the very being of those who encounter it. Like the bread and wine we partake of at communion, it becomes one with all.

In the beautiful and sacred gesture of letting her hair down, Mary chooses the vulnerability of love. She uses her hair to wipe the feet of Jesus in an act of complete surrender and humility. In that moment, there are no words, no thinking, no other, only love.

As we at St. Luke’s journey together to Easter, may our prayer be that God grants us all the insight, awareness, strength, and courage to choose, as Mary did, love: love within us, between us, and in the world.

Patricia Warburton