We all have what we consider priorities. Each day we juggle those priorities and the squeakiest priority will often get our attention. Family, school, work, housework, fitness, health, paying bills, volunteering at church or elsewhere, are often the needs that get our time and attention. Now, none of these are bad priorities or wrong to pay attention to in any way, but I sometimes wonder for myself, when I get caught up in thinking that something has to be attended to right now, if that is really true. Discernment around what is important in our days and weeks that seem to fly by all too quickly, seems to be a luxury, an opportunity not afforded to us or at least one that we don’t stop to take. I can be become completely engulfed in thinking that if I don’t get my laundry finished, if I don’t wrap up details on a project, if I don’t get my son to all of his activities on time, if I don’t get this sermon perfect or a list of a hundred other things that seem to demand time that I’m not good enough or I’m not really doing what I should be. Or worse yet, I’m not fulfilling my purpose and people will not see me as useful.
If we’re honest, we not only judge ourselves but we judge other people’s priorities too, don’t we? We notice the actions of people at work, at church, in our neighborhood and even in our own families and wonder how they can make the decisions that they do. Don’t they know that they are not choosing the correct action? The thing about priorities is that they are subjective. They are distracting and often not even fulfilling or life-giving to us. Priorities often come from an outside source, outside pressures, such as co-workers, family members and our society at large and are often more about how the world sees us, or what image we project than about who we really are and what we really need.
How often do we really get our priorities straight? How often do we succumb to what others tell us is a priority for the sake of appearance, harmony or simply conflict avoidance? How often are we worried that if we really lived the way our heart begs us to, we’ll be ridiculed, judged or worse yet, dismissed? Mary must have had some trepidation as she pulled out that pot of perfume that cost her everything she had. It must have felt reckless to even purchase it. How many of us would spend that kind of money, our whole year’s wages on something that is quickly used up? But buy this exotic, lavish perfume she did. Her priority wasn’t what people would think or talk about the next day, it was Jesus. The second Jesus walked through the door to her home that she shared with her siblings, priorities of worrying about tomorrow, 401K’s, retirement, social norms, gender roles, and self-dignity vanished. Mary’s priority was her relationship with the one who was all about abundant life. It didn’t matter to her that women don’t touch men to which they are not related. It didn’t matter to her that a woman didn’t allow her hair to be loose in public. It didn’t matter to her that she used up the whole jar of perfume. It didn’t matter that the dinner guests were now also permeated with the scent of this perfume. Mary’s only concern was her relationship with the one whose very presence ushered in the reality of life from death, sorrow to joy and hopelessness to hopefulness.
Judas couldn’t let her misguided priorities go without comment and correction. Where was Mary’s priority to the poor? Where was her priority of appearances? I mean, Jesus was famous or infamous now, and we can’t have the people get ahold of this kind of scandal? A year’s worth of money on perfume? How will that look? Will people stop following and giving money to their ministry and mission? Besides how much of that money would have been Judas’ take? We all know or have been at one time or another, THAT person who has to point out the error in someone else’s choices, especially if we can make ourselves look better in the process. “That money should be for the poor Jesus! Tell Mary how she didn’t use her money wisely! Tell Mary how she’s not being a good follower of you.”
I love John’s aside about Judas. You can almost hear John’s eyes rolling as he explains that Judas’ real priority was himself. He didn’t prioritize the poor or the suffering over himself. Judas’ motivation was Judas. If I love John’s aside, I love Jesus’ response even more. In our NRSV Jesus says, “Leave her alone,” but the Greek might be better translated as “Release her.” Release her Judas from your priority of keeping face. Release Mary from the oppression of gender roles in first century Palestine. Release her from your judgment of how she chooses to share her resources. Release Mary from your judgment of how she chooses to worship God.
You see, when Mary released the fragrance of that perfume from the jar, she was heralding in the promises of God. The promises of release of the captives, the promises of release from oppression, promises of release from being invisible, promises of release from hopelessness, promises of release from separation from God and community and promises of release from death. Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise of release from what crushes us, the priorities of the world that don’t fill us, that take our life and don’t permeate our lives with abundance of love, grace and peace. Mary’s anointing of Jesus is active love in response of being released. When your truly free, love doesn’t have a cost, relationships aren’t steeped in obligation or the expectation of reciprocity and vulnerability is held as sacred space.
Jesus will stoop to wash the disciples’ feet just a few days later, releasing them from the old way of being, to a new way, a new commandment, “love one another as I have loved you.” Be released from worrying about who might take advantage of you and be released from what this world says about priorities of looking out for yourself and your own preferences, wishes and agendas. You are released to live in a different way, released to be who God created you to be, pure love poured out into the world for the sake of releasing others from systems of bondage. This is what we will pour out on Addison, Jamison, William and Stephanie at the 10 a.m. worship. In the water, word and promises made, they are released from the old way of sin and death to the new life and grace with God and the people of God forever.
It’s vulnerable, it’s risky this kind of release. Being released to live with our focus not only Jesus and his actions, but also on the words of Jesus to remember God’s priority that we are to include everyone in God’s promises, the poor, the rich, the outsiders, the hurting, the different from us, the ones that we will always have with us, as we are all in need of mind, body or spirit at some point each and every day. No one escapes the suffering and traumas of the broken world. But we are to remember that we all shine the light of Christ to one another and we all have an important part in the community of God’s people. We know the abundant and extravagant love and grace of God for all people, in all times and in all places. We know the release of sin, brokenness and shame to live in wholeness, vulnerability and authentic relationship with God and with one another. May the fragrance of Jesus’ love permeate us and release us. Thanks be to God.