Tag Archive | piety

In Remembrance of Her

Anointing-Jesus-head

(stained glass window from a chapel in France)

Matthew 26:6-13

Now while Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment, and she poured it on his head as he sat at the table. But when the disciples saw it, they were angry and said, “Why this waste? For this ointment could have been sold for a large sum, and the money given to the poor.” 10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? She has performed a good service for me. 11 For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12 By pouring this ointment on my body she has prepared me for burial. 13 Truly I tell you, wherever this good news[b] is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”

***

          Whatever prompted me to be so bold?!  In my dotage now, I quite startle myself as I think about what I did at Simon’s dinner party so long ago.

          Jesus had just recently made his triumphal march into Jerusalem.  Now we were all just waiting.  Waiting for that moment when he would clear the political decks, declare the Roman occupation over, and take the destiny of our nation into his own hands.  Simon had spread a festive table in anticipation of that coming moment of triumph, and I was so pleased to be one of the guests.  My eyes mirrored the shining hope that sparkled in the eyes of the disciples, and we were all just a little bit giddy.  All except for Jesus, that is.  Very quiet.  Very solemn.  I went over to tease him a bit, get him to smile and join the party!  But as I drew closer to him, I saw the profound sadness in his eyes, a sadness so cavernous it seemed to enfold every sorrow, and I do mean every sorrow(!) that earth had ever known.

          My heart cracked open a bit when I saw those eyes, and I simply could not help myself.  I didn’t know what that pain was all about, but I knew that words could never touch it.  So without giving it a second thought, I simply took the vial of expensive ointment I wore around my neck, and in one quick motion, I opened it and poured it all—yes, every drop of it!—over his head.  I remember hoping it would somehow seep into his very soul and ease a bit the pain I had seen in those eyes.

          Immediately the air in the room became heavy with the rich fragrance of the ointment.  Heavy, too, with a stunned silence—everyone shocked at such a bold act.  And then that dark hostility which I can never forget.  Coming especially from the corner where the disciples were standing.  “What a waste!  We could have sold that ointment and used the money to help the many poor who will doubtless come flocking to Jesus’ new kingdom!  A pox on her and her stupidity.”

          My cheeks burned a fiery red, and I wished the ground would open up and swallow me right then and there.  It didn’t, of course.  Tears ran down my face as I stumbled towards the door.  But through my sobs, I heard his gentle voice: “Why do you trouble the woman?  She has done a good service for me…By pouring this ointment on me, she has prepared me for burial.”  I froze.  His words were truly a gift, but a gift that sliced into my very soul.  Burial?  But he was far too young to be thinking of his death!

          I ponder it all now, years after the fact, and I am so grateful that I followed my heart that night.  Grateful I could offer him that tiny bit of consolation before the agonies of his final earthly days with us.  Grateful for his kind words that still echo in my soul when winter rains come and cold winds sweep across my aging dreams.

          All these memories will soon be buried with my bones.  Jesus said I would long be remembered wherever the good news of his life and death and resurrection might be proclaimed, and that’s a pleasant thought in these my final days.  It will indeed be nice to be remembered.  But I hope I won’t be remembered just in the telling of my story.  I’d really rather be remembered by people…

  • taking the time and care to look into another’s eyes to see, to really see, the aches and longings hiding there; by people

  • opening their hearts in gestures of love, no matter how foolish those gestures may appear; and by people

  • pouring vials of rich, costly heart-kindness into the lives of others, not to solve all their problems, but simply to brighten and cheer and remind those others that they are not alone.

          Time now for me to put away my pen and close my eyes for sleep.  I pray God soon to call me home, and I pray God’s peace to any who may chance some day to come upon what I have written.

Pious Squirrel

 

 

The little squirrel on my deck has certainly struck a quiet pose of piety—hands meekly folded, head bowed, eyes cast downward.  Perhaps he’s expressing gratitude for a glorious autumn day?  Perhaps praying for his next meal?  Or perhaps—more  sinisterly—perhaps he’s simply trying to look like a humble, pious, innocent creature who couldn’t possibly be the same squirrel who’s been hanging from our roof and helping himself to huge chunks of the birds’ suet!

Unfortunately, endearing as he appears in this pious pose, I suspect the latter, and this little squirrel reminds me all too much of the pious poses we all strike at times to try to impress people—or to try to impress God!  I know I’m guilty of that at times, and I was certainly a master of the pious pose when I was a teen-ager in my parents’ very pious home.  My parents had a deep faith which expressed itself in many ways.  They always attended every church service, and at home, we prayed together before each meal, they spoke often of their faith, and Dad, with sober face, would lead us in family devotions each day after breakfast or lunch.

All well and good, and I’m grateful, very grateful, for the faith of my mother and father and grateful for their sincerity in wanting their three daughters to share that faith.  Unfortunately, however, much of what I practiced as a “pious teenager” was a form of piety rather than real piety or real faith.  I learned all too quickly that appearing to be pious was pretty effective at getting my parents’ attention and praise.  So I would pray long, lovely prayers, and I would also give glowing reports of what God was doing in my young life, even if what I said didn’t really resonate with what I experienced in my daily living.  It certainly elicited praise from my devout parents and maybe even gave me the car keys more often than I would have been allowed them if I hadn’t been quite so openly pious!  Like my little squirrel, I was all too capable of posing as a deeply spiritual person, even if I hadn’t really experienced all that I claimed.  I was a genuine pious fraud!

Thankfully most people aren’t as easily taken in as my parents were!  Pious frauds are usually easily spotted, and most people are not impressed by any of our pious poses put on simply to embellish our status.  Certainly God isn’t the least bit impressed, because God knows our squirrelly thoughts and intentions all too well!

I do believe that God longs for a deep relationship of loving joy and trust with each of us, but I believe, as well, that such a relationship is only possible if we come to God “just as we are.”  Take off our pious facades, and come with our doubts.  With our longings.  With our often fragile faith.  With our sins.  With our fears.  Come in simple honesty to rest in the warm embrace of God’s welcoming love.

I can’t say I offer much of a warm embrace of welcoming love to that little squirrel on my deck.  In fact, I’m really quite annoyed by his thieving ways and then his pious posing as if grabbing chunks of suet was the farthest thing from his mind.  But maybe I should be grateful for his reminder of my own pious posing, past and present?   Hmmm.  Certainly something to think about!