Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.John 12:1-11
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." When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.
Monday in Holy Week: “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished”
“No good deed goes unpunished” was something I grew up hearing my Aunt Gretchen say – usually with a frightening degree of relish in her voice and usually as she was launching into a long, gossipy story involving one of her Altar Guild or Daughters of the King cronies. Thinking back, “see these Christians, how they love one another” was not exactly what got modeled for me in my early growing-up days in the church … it was more like “see these Christians, how they fight and argue over things like women priests and prayer books, over who gets to sit in which pew and sing which hymn.”
And what I heard as a grade-school altar guild groupie hasn't changed much from what I hear as a fifty-something church blog junkie.
And so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that “No good deed goes unpunished” comes to my mind as an appropriate sub-title of the gospel story appointed for this Monday in Holy Week – the story of Mary's extravagant outpouring of precious perfume as a gift to Jesus earned her a tongue lashing from Judas. It's a story not only told in this Gospel according to John ... and what all the tellings of the story have in common is that the good deed – the gift she offered – was judged and rejected by those surrounding Jesus who thought she should have made a different choice.
Mark says, “They were infuriated with her.” Matthew says, “They murmured against her.” (And if I got to choose I think I’d pick the nice honest infuriation anytime over a bunch of murmuring going on!) Either way, her best offering was deemed unacceptable by the community that surrounded Jesus … there was no way they were going to let her good deed go unpunished.
And then Jesus intervened.
“Let her alone. Why do you criticize her?” he asked – and then challenged them to look beyond their “either/or” mind-sets and embrace what we like to call “both/and” thinking – that feeding the poor is always important but so is taking care of each other: that in doing what she did – offering what she offered – she gave not only a gift to Jesus but an example to us of risking to give abundantly, to love extravagantly.
What an example for us to claim on this Monday in this Holy Week. And what an antidote to the “either/or” challenges that seem to face us every time we turn around – not to mention the “no good deed unpunished” contingent who are all too ready to leap in at a moment’s notice with what we shoulda, coulda, oughta done instead …
The climate of polarization that currently grips the American Culture, the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion is a prime example. I'm thinking this morning of a friend and parishioner who shared with me the experience of being part of a day of dialogue that brought together folks from different congregations and contexts for “conversation across the divide.” They started by going around the table and naming what were, for them, Jesus’ core moral values.
“Peace” said my friend.
“Not at any price,” immediately retorted a woman across the table from her, “what about security?” – throwing down the “either/or” gauntlet … and letting her know it was going to be a long day across the divide!
The idea that we have to choose between peace and security is, I believe, a false dichotomy that puts us in “either/or” land – but it is a place where many people dwell: like the disciples either murmuring at or infuriated by those of us who have a different perspective. Bridging that divide is tough – hard, hard work – but it’s work we’re called to do. And, I’m happy to report, its work my friend hung in there and gave it her best shot for the rest of the weekend.
Were any minds changed? I suspect not – but – like the woman who anointed Jesus -- she did what she could.
In the wider Anglican Communion and here at home in the Episcopal Church the either/or du jour seems to be “justice or unity.” Can we find a way to respect the dignity of every human being and fully include all of the baptized in the Body of Christ and still maintain unity? And there are LOTS of good deeds not going unpunished as those working, striving, strategizing and advocating for a way forward through the hard ground of our differences run up against just how hard it is to hear the “both/and” voice over all the “either/or” shouting.
I found some hope this week in these words from the paper entitled "A Theology of Marriage including Same-sex Couples" which was presented to the House of Bishops.
We read our situation in light of the church council in Acts, and propose a similar compromise for a way forward: Traditionalist communities need not relinquish their traditions, but they must not break table fellowship. Inclusivist communities are not bound by those particular traditions, but they must avoid sexual immorality, which means that all couples, including same-sex couples, should marry.It may not be perfect, but it is a both/and approach to what has become for so many an intractable either/or impasse ... and so it gives me hope.
The prayer that began our worship is full of “both/ands” -- joy and pain/glory and crucifixion/the way of the cross and the way of life and peace. For the “way of the cross” is by its very nature a both/and – a way we walk throughout our spiritual journey and a way we walk in a most intentional way this Holy Week.
May we be given the grace in these holy days ahead to walk with the sure and certain knowledge that the One who walked this way ahead of us walks along with us as well. And may we be given the grace to treat each other gently along the way – letting the good deeds of others go unpunished as we work to proclaim together the Good News we have been given to share. Amen.