Is there any answer to judging by appearances?

Maria Magdelena and The Anointing, Jan Van Scorel, Amsterdam Museum. Iconography associates the anointing with Mary Magdalene though no text supports this interpretation. Scripture cites Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus as the one who anoints Jesus with oil.

Holy Monday

Six days before Passover Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. They gave a dinner for him there, and Martha served, while Lazarus was one of those reclining at table with him. Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair; the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. Then Judas the Iscariot, one of his disciples, and the one who would betray him, said, “Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages and given to the poor?” He said this not because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief and held the money bag and used to steal the contributions. So Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Let her keep this for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.  The large crowd of the Jews found out that he was there and came, not only because of him, but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. And the chief priests plotted to kill Lazarus too, because many of the Jews were turning away and believing in Jesus because of him.  

“Do not look at his appearance or height, for I have rejected him; the LORD does not see as man does. For man sees the outward appearance, but the LORD sees the heart.”

John 12:1-11; 1 Samuel 16:7

Holy Week Prayer: Help us Lord to see ourselves and others as you see.  Give us wisdom to choose our associations based on other’s faith and trust in you, Christ, and not their status in this world. Guide us never to bear false witness or slander but speak truth always. Let us always seek, not to be a part of the world, but to be no part of it as you prayed on behalf of us.  Help us be the Light of the World. Amen. Ora Pro Nobis.

Most things bear our closer examination.  The above scene with the anointing of Jesus for His coming sacrifice and burial is one of many parts of this quoted scripture from the book of John. There is also a man in charge of money protesting how its spent, but he doesn’t really care about the people on whose behalf he claims it should be spent. (Proverbs 23: 6-8)  There is a woman performing a kind act for a man but is not doing it for personal reasons but out of sheer appreciation for who he is and what he has done for others…and more importantly, what he is about to do for all mankind. 

We as a society, Chesterton observes, often misinterpret motive.  Too often, we put our trust in people and things that don’t deserve it and overlook or even falsely accuse those who do deserve our trust. That is especially so in today’s world: People put their trust in those who are unworthy of that trust because of what they can obtain from them and not in Christ because of who He is.

In this story of Holy Monday, that is the point being illustrated by Judas and Mary: Judas is casually accepted and given too much trust while Mary is overly suspicioned and not given a fair assessment of character. And Jesus, at that moment, is in more need than the poor.

Jesus pointedly reminds his disciples of this: that the more important point is that He will no longer be with them. People and their needs of the moment, not money or even fake concern for what appears to be virtuous, are what deserve our heartfelt attention and focus. People of faith in Christ, no matter their station in life, are who deserve our trust over those who have sought money and power. There are always ethical choices to be made with our time and our resources and Jesus is teaching us here how to perceive what the order of those choices should be from learning how He thinks in this example. (1 Corinthians 2:16)

The purpose of the Church as it preaches putting full faith in Christ’s kingdom as the answer to mankind’s problems, is countermanding this weak tendency to trust the rich and their virtue signaling. This is especially critical as we look around at what is happening in our society and our governments today. There is a perverse trust in the rich. While many think they should be divested of their wealth, they perversely are putting their trust in the very organizations the rich control and built.

In his trenchant observation on the moral danger of trusting the rich over the poor from his book Orthodoxy, Chesterton, states the following:

“If better conditions will make the poor more fit to govern themselves, why should not better conditions already make the rich more fit to govern them? On the ordinary environment argument the matter is fairly manifest. The comfortable class must be merely our vanguard in Utopia…Is there any answer to the proposition that those who have had the best opportunities will probably be our best guides? Is there any answer to the argument that those who have breathed clean air had better decide for those who have breathed foul? As far as I know, there is only one answer, and that answer is Christianity. Only the Christian Church can offer any rational objection to a complete confidence in the rich. For she has maintained from the beginning that the danger was not in man’s environment, but in man. Further, she has maintained that if we come to talk of a dangerous environment, the most dangerous environment of all is the commodious environment…Christianity even when watered down is hot enough to boil all modern society to rags. The mere minimum of the Church would be a deadly ultimatum to the world. For the whole modern world is absolutely based on the assumption, not that the rich are necessary (which is tenable), but that the rich are trustworthy, which (for a Christian) is not tenable. You will hear everlastingly, in all discussions about newspapers, companies, aristocracies, or party politics, this argument that the rich man cannot be bribed. The fact is, of course, that the rich man is bribed; he has been bribed already. That is why he is a rich man. The whole case for Christianity is that a man who is dependent upon the luxuries of this life is a corrupt man, spiritually corrupt, politically corrupt, financially corrupt. There is one thing that Christ and all the Christian saints have said with a sort of savage monotony. They have said simply that to be rich is to be in peculiar danger of moral wreck.”

― G.K. Chesterton, The Eternal Revolution, Orthodoxy, 1908

That same applies to those, as Holy Scripture tells us, “who are determined to be rich” just as Judas was.

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