I have a dream. It features a woman who pops up in the gospels and who had a remarkable desire to thank Jesus for what he was doing for the people and what he had done for her. Her opportunity came when she and her brother Lazarus and sister Martha gave a dinner for Jesus at their home in Bethany one evening. It was about a week before he died. Mary came into the room and broke open a jar of precious and very expensive ointment to anoint Jesus’ feet (Jn 12:1-8).
The smell of the ointment went right through the house. The apostle Judas smelt it too and said ‘what a hell of a waste—this precious stuff could have been sold and the money given to the poor’. The writer of John’s gospel tells us that concern for the poor was not really the issue—Judas kept the common purse and had been stealing from it.
Jesus intervened and said to them ‘Leave her alone. What she has done can be counted as done in anticipation of my burial’. He had been trying to get it across to them that his love for them was going to cost him his life and that following him would one day cost them their lives, too. It has been said that ‘if you love you will be crucified; but if you don’t, you’re dead already’.
Last century there was a famous protestant theologian—Paul Tillich (named, if I remember rightly, after Paul Skippen). He suggests that in contrast to Judas’s very sensible suggestion, this woman’s gesture represents the excess factor, the non-sensible factor that gets into love when we are struck by just how wonderful God’s love for us really is. The appropriate response to excessive love is excessive love—not love that is measured, careful, calculated and sensible! After all, we say that ‘people in love do mad things’!
In my dream I see a generation of very generous young people coming forward with their jars of precious ointment. They have been struck by just how great God’s love for us is, and want to love in return and in kind. Just as Jesus gave his all, loving in kind means giving our all—going beyond the horizons of what is normal, and sufficient, and sensible.
These young people will see their marriage vows as echoing Jesus’ unconditional, life-giving, total love, and they will want their love for each other to be like that. Many will take vows of poverty, chastity and community life, as another way of doing mad things. Some will opt for priesthood and celibacy as yet another way of loving the way Jesus loved.
At Taradale last Sunday (August 30) I was with some wonderful young people for the great sacrament of Confirmation. They were singing ‘It’s a great time to live, to stand up, and to be counted on. It’s a long road and we have be strong, but it’s a great time to live, stand up and be counted on’.