Close to the time of Jesus’ death, he and his followers visited the house of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Martha cooked, and served a meal, after which Mary took perfume and washed (anointed) Jesus’ feet with the perfume and her hair. As the scent of the perfume filled the house, Judas spoke for the poor–stating that the perfume should have been sold and the money given to those in need. Jesus’ answer has always surprised me:
Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.
Why didn’t Jesus–Jesus–speak for the poor? Where is his compassion in this passage? Haven’t we always been taught that our first duty (particularly our first duty as Christians) is to others–that we must put the needs of our neighbour before our own? Jesus wholeheartedly accepts the pleasure Mary offers him. He says that the poor will always be part of the world, but that he, Jesus, will soon leave it. His usual grace is present in this passage, but not his usual distaste at social injustice and pain.
I cannot believe that Jesus was aligning himself with the corrupt (capitalist) system of social injustice. I feel like it’s too easy to say “We can’t fix <insert problem> there’s no point in trying”. At the same time I am just as addicted to the pleasure and beauty which money can buy (a $20 shoulder massage, a new Josh Pyke CD) as others brought up in our society. It is very hard to live in this culture, and constantly keep in mind the fact that lack of the cost of that CD you just bought has literally meant the death of somebody’s daughter, somebody else’s son. The choice you made when you bought that CD meant another human being’s death. It’s You. It’s Your Responsibility. It’s Up To You.
And the reason it’s so hard to keep this truth in mind, is because it is sublimated by a bigger truth. A truth that concerns our reasons for existence, the reasons we are on, and continue to be on this earth at all. Which is, that one of our main duties as human beings is to notice, and celebrate, the beauty, joy, and pleasure which is regularly apparent in all but the bleakest of situations. Despite the problems endemic in our lifestyle, sometimes this means we have a duty to allow ourselves to attain the things which we value as delicate, and exquisite, and graceful, in order to notice and celebrate the ananda of the world.
The delight Jesus took in his own sensuality and in the gift of Mary’s kindness during this passage is a lesson, not in denying the wrongs done to those in our society by ourselves and everyone else who participates in it, but in embracing the mindful and life affirming practise of loving the physical, practical and intricate beauty of creation.