When it Came to Charity, Perhaps Judas’s Nose Was Plugged

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." (John 12:1-8)

Mary annoints Jesus's feet with charityIt’s a potent scene. Potent, both in terms of the permeating aroma and the raw, confronting piety Mary dotes upon Jesus. The anointing—carried in her sodden hair—contains multitudes of meaning. It foreshadows Jesus’ death, burial, and even glorious resurrection as a King. And carried in her being, is a powerful message of charity for us amid these challenging times.

Mary shows that some arise with a genuine, costly charity, even in the shadows of anticipated death, betrayal, and anguish. Mind you, this scene took place a mere six days before the Passover. However faint, Mary shows her foresight to perceive that the world would pivot in six days. And with less than a week left, what does she do—what message does she leave us? That even amid uncertainty, even when but six days from anticipated calamity, even when we reside in a home once a domicile for death—the presence of Christ calls forth from us the true worship of extravagant charity.

Mary reveals she has vision and that Judas has lost his sense of smell.

Perhaps, Judas’ nose was plugged. He couldn’t smell the aroma of devotion untampered by fear of scarcity. He couldn’t see a world beyond the pivot that would take place in six days, causing him to clamp down upon any sense of supposed security within his vicinity. Lost to his self-serving interests, Judas could not perceive the glorious act for what it is. He attempted to hide his false piety (exposed in parenthesis) behind accusations of wastefulness hurled at Mary. His pretense is a foil to her genuineness.

But even when we cannot see a world beyond the next six days, perhaps we can smell the sweet aroma that is pleasing to God—the countless expressions of individual and collective charity expressed as a consequence of following the Christ who so associated, championed, and blessed people in need as to be indistinguishable from them.

Can you smell charity?

Smell the aroma of Mary’s piety that brings us to true worship of Jesus and generous service to people experiencing poverty. Smell the aroma of friend, neighbor, and stranger whose generosity extends the scope of your radical concern for our neediest neighbors. Those who recognize that we “will always have the poor with us,” not because this is God’s will, but because we have not fully embraced our responsibility for economic inequality. Those who recognize economic imbalance are the icon of our errors. We want to cast aside people with low-income, push them to the outskirts, and hide them from society’s purview. Yet, Christ, whose presence was temporarily among us in the flesh, is so associated with them as to call them perpetually to our attention.

Even when our world is pivoting, the poverty’s perpetual presence is a lament and a call to action. It laments our failure to attend to the neediest among us. Their condition is our error. And it calls us to offer up a fragrance sweet to the nose of God—the fragrance of a heart attentive to the call toward generous, costly charity. It is the aroma that unclenches fists of self-interest, opens palms in generosity, and turns us into God’s perfume to suffuse a world in great need.

The Rev. Trey B. Phillips (he/him) serves as an At-Large Member of the ECF Board of Directors and is the curate and Director of Youth Ministries at St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church (Marietta). There his work focuses upon the Christian formation of the youth and wider parish. Trey's passion is to reinvigorate the local parish as a center for deep theological learning by employing the rich intersection of human learning sciences and religious education. Trey grew up in Alabama and lived in Indiana and South Carolina before he and his spouse, Annie, moved to Atlanta in 2017. Annie is currently a pre-K teacher at College Heights Early Childhood Learning Center in Decatur, GA. They enjoy going to the movies, traveling, and practicing hospitality—usually through board games and cookies! Learn more about the ECF Board of Directors.

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