Once upon a time they lived happily ever after.

April 3, 2022

Isaiah 43:16-21 | Philippians 3:4b-14 | John 12:1-8 | Psalm 126

When I was an elementary counselor working in classrooms, I used puppets to tell and illustrate stories. At the beginning of the year I would tell this story: “Once upon a time they lived happily ever after.” The children would laugh and tell me that wasn’t a story, and I’d ask them what was needed. Invariably their suggestions involved conflict, the backbone of a good story. Their answers guided my stories as the puppets experienced the conflicts. 

Without conflict, stories can be boring and pointless, and for me, the best stories center around conflict in which both, or all, sides have equal validity. Conflicts of pure good and pure evil can be compelling to read, but they don’t provoke thought and engage analysis in the same way. Whether the conflict centers around ideas, power, values, property or any other source, it involves commitment and desire for a favorable outcome which may not be compatible with that of the other.

So we come to the conflict implied by the question in today’s Gospel reading: “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” Let’s set aside for a moment Judas’s motivation for the question and consider it on its own merit. Surely the money could have eased the lives of many, (if Judas had not kept it for himself). Jesus responds, “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.” Ouch, that seems a little harsh! Yes, there will always be “the poor,” but does that mean we do not have compassion for them? Or does it mean that there are times when we must honor that which is holy and transcendent? Or does it mean something else entirely?

The value of a great story is that it raises the questions and lets the readers/listeners interpret the resolution in light of their own experiences. What commitment would you honor with three hundred denarii? How do you define “happily ever after”?

Sally House