Action or Contemplation?

Action or Contemplation?


Scripture: John 12:1-8 (NRSV)

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.'


The Gospel reading portrays a beautiful story. Jesus is in Bethany for the Passover and sharing the meal with his followers at Lazarus' home. While Martha was serving, Mary took an essence of oil made of pure nard and anointed Jesus' feet with her hair as a way of honoring their Spirit-centered teacher. We are told that the house was filled with the aromatic fragrance - an image so clear that we can almost smell the fragrance as we read the story. The beauty of the moment is interrupted by Judas. Challenging this seemingly wasteful action he asks why the money spent on the perfume was not given to the poor. Jesus responds with thought-provoking words for every generation: "You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me."

With Judas' comments, the story of anointing is turned into a story of tension. Classic issues of faith unfold. How is it best to be faithful? Do we show our faith by being or doing? Is faith about action or contemplation?

During the last months of my father's life, he lived in a hospital bed in the dining room of my parent's home. At some point during his illness he developed bacteria in his leg that left a huge wound near his ankle. Each day my mother cleaned the wound and applied a new bandage. One evening, I found myself standing in the doorway of the dimly lit dining room watching my mother care for my father's leg. My father was asleep or very quiet as my mother silently attended him. After she had cleaned the wound and wrapped the leg, she gently covered his foot with his blanket. Resting her hands on his leg she whispered: "you, sweet, sweet man."

Suspended for a moment in time, I knew in the depth of my being that our faith is not about either/or, black or white. It is about both/and. In our doing, there is being. In our being, there is our doing.

May your Lenten journey be blessed with sacred knowing. Amen.


O Gracious One, may we have the eyes to see you, the hearts to know you and the wisdom to follow you this day and always. Amen.

Susan S. Izard

a spiritual director and Pastor of Spiritual Life for First Church West Hartford

March 09, 2016
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