"What do you see?"
6 Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, 7 a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. 8 And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? 9 For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” 10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12 In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. 13 Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”
14 Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. 16 And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him. - Matthew 26:6-16
Spring has sprung in my neck of the woods. The flowers are popp'n: yellow forsythia & daffodil, redbud trees and cascading carpets of flocks have been rolled out in pink and lavender. Accompanying them, you can hear the morning song of birds returning from winter retreats, alongside the soft hum of bees.
<-- Flower #1
Flower #2 -->
What do you see? Two flowers. Same genus, different species? Same species, just two different colors? What if I told you they were the exact same flower. Identical. Flower #1 is what you and I see as it appears in the visible light spectrum. Flower #2 is what a bee sees. Their vision tends to lean further out on the ultraviolet end of the wavelength. I find this especially curious, for this reason. What is a bee in search of, hopping from flower to flower this time of year? Pollen! In the ultraviolet wavelength, this flower looks like a bullseye indicating exactly where the bee can find the good stuff.
Identical flower, very different presentation. Perspective is the word that fits here. Etymologically, it is the compound of Per (forward or through) + Specere (to look at or observe); like the word spectacle, which can be 'something to see' or it can alternatively be a set of 'lenses that we see through'. If I hold a bible at arms length from my face, the tiny print becomes hazy. The paper, the text, hasn't changed a bit, but my ability to see has. If I place a pair of readers on my nose, all of a sudden I can make out words and sentences. Poetry and story.
Perspective changes what we see, and what we believe to be true. Where we stand determines what we see. I think about this during this late Wednesday afternoon of Holy Week. A day traditionally set aside to reflect on Jesus' anointing at Bethany, just beyond the Mount of Olives outside Jerusalem. Today he is in the home of Simon the Leper. That's about all we know about his host. A leper who lives in the town called "The House of the Poor Ones" (Beth/House + Any/affliction or misery). It's a little tricky, but it's sometimes called the 'House of Figs' as well. This is curious to me because Bethphage is typically translated 'House of unripened figs' and is closer to the Mount of Olives where Jesus curses the fruitless fig tree. Are we to surmise that the further you get from Jerusalem the more fruitful things are??? As Jesus leaves his arguments with religious leaders, he chooses to spend his last few hours with the afflicted and poor?
Regardless, I believe something of significance is demonstrated at this meal. Jesus is at table with Simon the Leper, his disciples and this unnamed woman who anoints him with expensive oil. The disciples protest, "this oil could have been sold and given to the poor!" Jesus silences them, "the poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me". Jesus is the poor one. The grave is so fresh you can smell the must of the cave. Maybe this perfume reminds him of the beauty that comes from a death, like the olives that are crushed to produce olive oil. Flowers macerated and pressed to make spikenard. He will die shortly. In this setting, Jesus has chosen to be the guest of a leper and entertain the act of lavish grace this unnamed woman pours over his body. "She has done this to prepare me for my burial, truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed throughout the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her", Jesus announces to his gobsmacked dinner guests.
These are Jesus' closest followers. They have left family and home to travel to Jerusalem with HIM. They imagine it will come at some cost, but their leader is talking about death. They are thinking of a future, what can be done long term for the needy when their new leaders reign is inaugurated. Jesus is talking about right now. This unnamed woman sees that. Jesus' disciples do not. They are all attending the same dinner, and their perspectives are worlds apart. A mystery in plain sight.
Jesus has this effect on people. The Magi saw the one born King of the Jews, while Herod saw a threat. One brigand mocked Jesus from his cross, and another asked to be remembered when he entered his kingdom.
This Wednesday, at the end of a long day...let us pray with the Apostle Paul who prayed for the Church at Ephesus..."may the eyes of your heart be enlightened". Or as some greeks, who petition the Apostle Philip in the 12th chapter of John "Sir, We wish to see Jesus."
Lord Jesus Christ, reveal yourself to us this Holy Week. In the liturgy and prayer, in the hymns and images, in the word read and proclaimed, at times at table, with our neighbor, especially the 'afflicted and miserable'...reveal yourself to us. This we pray in the name and for the sake of the one most afflicted, that we might not squander the riches of our glorious inheritance, but receive them with joy in Jesus Christ. Amen.
16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers,17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him,18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church,23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. - Ephesians 1:16-23