Monday, March 29, 2010
Embracing the Season of Lent in Holy Week: Moving from Privation to Plenty
Today we hear the gospel story of Lazarus’ sister Mary bathing Jesus’ feet with costly perfumed oil. It has always been interesting for me that it is Judas who objects to the woman’s extravagant expenditure. And I imagine we can relate. I mean, really, why would you pour expensive perfume on someone’s feet? Especially if you consider that it’s a culture of sandal-wearers: people whose feet are constantly getting dirty (as we’re reminded in the Holy Thursday Liturgy where Jesus tells Peter that people who have bathed only need their feet washed). Feet are dirty all the time when they are exposed to the sandy streets of the Holy Land. The wastefulness of the woman’s action is obvious. Yet, it is the traitor who questions the woman’s action—no one else-- and Jesus responds by reminding him that He would not always be with them. It is a reminder, first, of the preciousness of every part of Jesus, down to his feet, which were probably calloused and none-too pretty (these were not the pedicured toes of contemporary metrosexuals!). His preciousness is mysterious and unexpected: his dirty feet are worthy of much more than the costly perfume with which they were anointed.
It is also a blessed reminder as we pass from Lent to Holy Week and Easter that there is a season for everything: for abstaining and indulging, for saving carefully and for giving freely. As I try to exercise wisdom and prudence with our family finances, I can sometimes get frustrated around holiday seasons. It seems like I can be so careful and save so much, but then all the savings goes out the window when I prepare for a great holiday. This aggravation is a sign that money, too, comes from Him: saving and spending are meaningful only in relation to Him. It is also a sign of the great gift of loved ones with whom we can celebrate Easter: we must rejoice with them, for He is Risen! Those loved ones will not be with us forever, as the sudden death of a good friend at the beginning of Lent reminded me last year. He—and they—are precious gifts; far more precious than anything we can give or make. So, too, after the abstinence from meat and other favorite foods that characterizes Lent, preparing for Easter dinner can be a bit disorienting. We can almost feel guilty as we set up planning, purchasing, and preparing the Easter meal. As we pass from a season of privation (Lent) to a season of plenty (Easter), it is good to be reminded that all seasons—like all things—come from the Lord, and we are called to feast no less than we are called to fast. As we prepare ourselves to do both this week, let us keep the mystery of His gift of self foremost in our minds.