Why did I do it? I’m not sure. All I know is that when our friend Jesus entered the house, an image of a bottle of nard instantly popped into my mind…then lodged in my heart. From that moment I could think of nothing else: I had to buy that bottle of nard.
I said my hellos, then gathered some money, slipped out the door, and walked to the market. If the shopkeeper wondered at the expensive purchase, he didn’t let on. Perhaps for him it was just another transaction, one that would make for a very good day at the shop.
I handed him the money; he handed me the nard. I’m sure I only imagined this, but it felt warm, almost hot to the touch….like concentrated power waiting to spew out of the bottle…like concentrated love impatient to be diffused.
As I walked back home, warmth emanating from the bottle into my hands, I thought of our last encounter with Jesus. A few weeks before, my brother Lazarus had taken ill. Very ill. The look in his eyes as he lay on his mat was the same look I had seen in the eyes of each of our parents as they were dying–the look of death.
Martha and I talked. We agreed that we had to call on our friend Jesus to come. Jesus had raised people from the dead before. Surely, he could stop our brother’s dying.
We sent word to Jesus, but he tarried. It broke our hearts when he didn’t come.
When Lazarus died, we followed the same rituals we had used for each of our parents. We washed his body and laid it out in our house. We called the mourners. Then after the appointed time, some of Lazarus’ friends gently lifted our brother’s body, carried him to the tomb, and laid his body down. We said our final prayers. The tomb was closed.
At that point, our grieving began in earnest–our grief for our brother, and our grief for a man we thought had been our close friend. Why hadn’t he come? We grieved the loss of Jesus.
Then, he appeared. I can’t say I’m proud of what I thought or said when Jesus showed up. Martha, who had greeted Jesus out beyond the house when he arrived, told me Jesus was there and wanted to talk to me. I ran out and, weeping, fell at Jesus’ feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” He also started crying.
He asked where Lazarus had been laid. The whole grieving crowd walked to the tomb—one large mass of mourning. Once the stone had been removed, Jesus commanded Lazarus to come out of the tomb. We all gasped when my brother appeared, his body draped in death clothes. And, yes, as Martha had feared, there was a bit of an…aroma.
I confess, learning to live with a resurrected person has been…awkward. I mean, he’s still Lazarus and everything…AND he’s someone else. Someone more. Once you’ve visited heaven, I think, it clings a bit.
When I got back to the house with the nard, I walked in and surveyed the room…there was Lazarus, my resurrected brother, eating more slowly than he used to. One of the changes we’d all noticed–since dying and coming back to life, Lazarus seemed to savor things more.
Next to Lazarus was Jesus, then the 12, including Judas. I confess I’d never clicked with Judas. He always seemed to be plotting something, looking for an edge, an advantage. When I talked with Judas, I wasn’t sure I was talking to Judas, you know? Martha—of course—wasn’t seated… As always, she was frantically tending her hostessing duties.
So, I entered the house, took in the scene, then did what the warm vial in my hands compelled me to do.
I walked to Jesus. I knelt at his feet. I poured the nard onto his feet–all of it. And I’m not sure why I did this–there certainly was a lot of talk about it later–but I wiped his feet with my hair. The house filled with the aroma of the nard. The tension I had felt since the nard had first appeared in my mind relented. My spirit was calm. I had given Jesus the gift I felt compelled to give. At the time I didn’t know all the reasons I was giving it…all I knew then, all I know now, is that I couldn’t NOT give that gift. And so I did.
It was a holy moment.
Then Judas spoke up. “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” Had he really missed the point of what we’d just experienced? Could he really not see why only the most expensive nard would have been extravagant enough for the moment we were creating together? Did he see in the nard only dollars and cents?
And, I must ask, did he really want the money for the poor? Or–there had been rumors– did Judas want that money for himself?
Jesus said to Judas: “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.”
When he said that—The day of his burial—it hit me… Yes! It was the same nard we’d bought for Lazarus’ burial! I’d totally forgotten about that! With all the unrest around the city, especially about Jesus, maybe I sensed what was going to happen. Maybe what compelled me to anoint Jesus was an innate understanding that he was about to die. And that, like my brother Lazarus, he would live again. Maybe. Maybe.
Since that remarkable day, I’ve thought a lot about the last thing Jesus said to Judas. “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” I’m still not sure what he meant by that. Was he being cynical? Had he given up on us–his followers—living the life to which he calls us, a life of solidarity with the poor, a life where everyone has what they need to live a fulfilling life?
Or maybe Jesus knew Judas’ intentions had nothing to do with poor people. Maybe when Jesus told Judas we’d always have the poor, he wasn’t talking about impoverished people. Maybe Jesus was saying we’d always have an excuse–any excuse–to avoid seeing the God who is in our midst, right in front of our eyes. Maybe the poor were simply the excuse Judas came up with that day not to see the holiness of what was happening in the room.
It’s easy to do, isn’t it? To excuse ourselves from seeing the holy all around us? Sometimes the poor are our excuse. Other times its work or family or protests or marches …anything to keep us from opening our hearts to all the ways God is present in every situation, in every person.
Maybe what Jesus was trying to say to Judas–to all of us–is that the point of everything he’d done from the beginning of his ministry was to help us see God everywhere, to see God in everyone. Maybe Jesus was saying that the life of faith isn’t so much about what we do or how much money we give, but about who we see when do what we do, when we give what we give.
In all of it—Do. We. See. God?
Since everything that happened–Lazarus’ death and resurrection, Jesus’ death and resurrection, since the nard warmed my hands, and my hair wiped his feet, since Jesus met Judas where he was with his questions, this question has lodged in my heart: What if I saw God in everything? In everyone? What if I saw God in the poor? What if I saw God in Judas?
If I practiced seeing God in everything and everyone, would I understand better what Jesus was trying to teach us? Would I grasp the depth and breadth and joy of God’s kindom? Would I buy more bottles of nard and pour their contents willy nilly over everyone I met?
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2019