Today’s Gospel reading tells of how Mary of Bethany anointed Jesus’ feet with costly perfumed oil. The Scripture calls this ‘aromatic nard’, which was likely an expensive imported oil. Judas Iscariot approximates this value at 300 days' wages, as he indignantly asks why the oil was not sold and the proceeds given to the poor. On the surface, this does not seem like a bad question. Perhaps Judas had a point, save for his desire to confiscate the money. Christians are commanded to have a preferential option for the poor. We are often asked why so much money and time are spent on things like church buildings when that money could have gone to the poor. This question takes on various forms but is motivated by the supposition of some underlying hypocrisy.
I think inserting the either/or into this context is the wrong approach. We are told to bring our best to God, who deserves nothing less. We are also told to give generously to the poor. What should ‘give’ here is our hoarding and limited mindset. We should abandon thinking we cannot empty ourselves to God and our fellow man at the same time. Jesus promises that God will meet our needs. We read about the multiplying of loaves and fishes. We know God can do these things, and many others that far exceed our imaginations. The question is do we trust Him to do so?
We should admit to ourselves that our efforts toward financial prudence sometimes evolve into building bigger barns. We should acknowledge that worry about the future creeps its way in and clamps our wallets closed. As hard as these things are to think about, the Lenten season is given to enable us to see that God is not limited. We can call out Judas’ false dichotomy. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can bring our best to God and give our best to our fellow man.
Returning to the earlier example, holy places should show the glory and splendor of the Almighty, drawing our attention upward to heaven. Churches should be beautiful. Accomplishing this takes money, time, and resources. Done correctly, these efforts are not for human glory or honor, but so that we may worship God in the fullest sense possible on this side of eternity. However, we should not think that these efforts must necessarily be at the expense of something else. Yes, the world system of finance works within constraints and finitude. But God is not confined to these same restrictions. So, we can take a both/and mindset. We can give freely to the church building and give freely to the poor. This puts our minds in an anxious state, where only God can bring calm, peace, and assurance that everything will be ok. I think this is exactly where He wants us to be.
If we look at salvation history, God is constantly pushing His people out of their comfort zone. This is the only way they can draw closer to Him. The divine life is one of infinite giving away. The Lover, the Beloved, and the Spirit of Love. The more we participate in the life of God, the abundant zoe of the Lord Jesus Christ, the more we are able to give away. Eschewing the false dichotomy yields something larger and deeply true; what we offer to God can be multiplied exponentially so that we will always be able to give our best to Him and our fellow man.