There is a movie called “Fireproof” that follows the experience of a couple on the brink of divorce. The man takes on a 40-day challenge know as a ‘Love Dare’ in order to reconnect with his wife. However, it is pretty clear in the beginning he was only doing the bare minimum required by the ‘program.’ One day he was to send his wife flowers, at which point he chooses the cheapest bouquet available. Later he learns the importance of taking his marriage seriously, and gives up something important to himself in order to do something of equal importance for his wife. He learned the importance of giving our best and giving our all.
Mary made a similar choice. In today’s scripture passage, Mary takes on a very dangerous and risky task of anointing Jesus in preparation for his upcoming crucifixion and burial. In order for us to understand her actions and the potential consequences of those actions, we need to better understand the culture of this time period. First, gender roles and boundaries were clearly drawn in the first century. Women were the behind-the-scenes, diligent workers in charge of the home. They would bring honor to their households by maintaining humility and service while creating a comfortable home that would welcome visitors. Martha, Mary’s sister, seemed to have grasped this concept. She was the one who invited Jesus and his disciples into her home, only to be completely distressed that her sister Mary refused to help with her duties. Luke 10:38-42 tells the story this way:
|38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one.[a]Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Mary chose to listen and learn at the feet of Jesus. The fact that Mary chose to defy her role in the household was truly a risk. Scandalous act number 1.
Second, women were never to take center stage or draw attention to themselves. Women were honored by their humility. Mary takes an extremely bold and potentially embarrassing step by the act of love she bestowed on Jesus. By anointing Jesus’ feet during a dinner served in her home, she was putting herself in the limelight – take center stage which would only be viewed with distaste and scorn for her actions. Scandalous act number 2.
Mary is in possession of an expensive perfume and some would wonder where and how she obtained it. Some have theorized that when Mary came of age she would have been given a jar of perfume to anoint herself in preparation for her wedding. It is quite possible Mary chose to use this jar of perfume to anoint the feet of Jesus. It would have been the best she had to offer. Notably, the perfume fragrance filled the household, enhancing this very public act Mary was conducting while also noting her willingness to give her very best perfume to Jesus, rather than saving it for her husband. Scandalous act number 3.
When Mary goes to the feet of Jesus, pours the perfume on his feet, she then let’s down her hair in order to wipe them. This is an extremely bold act for Mary as she was basically putting her reputation at risk. Women were to keep their heads covered and their hair bound back as a sign of purity. Only women considered ‘loose’ would wear their hair down, noting their questionable morals. For Mary to take down her hair in public and use it to wipe Jesus’ feet, she was committing an act that would certainly raise a few eyebrows. Scandalous act number 4.
Yet what is the greater scandal in this story? Do we not hear the cold-hearted nature of Judas Iscariot as he placed the value of Mary’s perfume against an act of honoring the son of God? Do we not see the greed that has seeped into his heart? John’s gospel notes that not only was Judas the keeper of the purse, but that he routinely stole from those funds for his own gain. Is this any different than the comparison Jesus made concerning the widow’s mite? You may recall the story from both Mark and Luke – here is Luke’s version chapter 21:1-4:
He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.”
Was Judas really concerned about the poor? The price he notes for the perfume would have been a year’s wage, but I am pretty sure had he been allowed to sell this perfume, no money would have made it to help the poor.
There are some things on which we simply cannot place a value. Greed is a powerful enemy, and when we attempt to place a monetary value on everything, we may truly have succumbed as Judas did. Yet radical generosity is a powerful ally. Radical generosity can change us from the inside out by defying our need for greed. When suddenly we view life as more than just surviving the anxiety of day-to-day living, perhaps we can see a glimpse of Jesus’ radical generosity. When we can step away from spending every moment of every day concerned for our financial gain, perhaps we can see a glimpse of Jesus’ radical generosity. When we can choose time with family over working longer hours, perhaps we can see a glimpse of Jesus’ radical generosity. Jesus encourages us to step away and draw closer to him. We do not have to carry our burden of worry alone.
So what? I think we are there. What does any of this have to do with us today? As we progress through the season of Lent, it is our time to answer the question, ‘what are we searching for?’ All of us are a bit innately restless – and this restlessness can often cause anxiety. Perhaps we are still trying to buy peace with more work hours, or more programs for our kids, or anything that will help appease this restlessness led by fear – fear of the unknown. Yet all this time we are presented with a loving savior who has already welcomed us into a place of peace and comfort.
The word ‘time’ has two different correlating words in the Greek language that are used as qualifiers. The first is ‘chronos’ time. This is the notion that every minute of every day is given the exact same importance. We can see this on our calendars. Whether the event is a 1-hour meeting or a 1-hour dinner with family, both are given the same amount of chronos time. There is no indication of importance – every slot of time is equal. We can see this as the root word of chronology – the arrangement of events or dates in the order of their occurrence.
The other qualifier of time is Kairos. Kairos time places a value on each segment of time, unrelated to time itself. For example, Kairos time would place a greater value on a 4-hour block of time needed for a family wedding as opposed to the same amount of time spent for doing household paperwork. Both are important, but the value of the wedding is considered greater than the value of paperwork.
Jesus is calling us to experience Kairos time. Jesus is beckoning us to realize what is truly important in life beyond what our consumeristic culture will dictate. Can we live more into Kairos time? Can we begin to see the beauty of the events of our lives? Can we worry a little less and trust God a little more? That is my prayer for each of us. May we all experience every minute of every day for the Kairos blessings that are presented. As the old saying goes, ‘take time to smell the roses.’ Amen.