This morning started, as usual, with the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. The entirety of page A4 – no ads – was devoted to two topics: the top two-thirds was headlined “U.N muddies Haiti’s cholera war”; the bottom third was headlined “3 Mega Millions winners, more than 100 million losers.”
The two articles speak clearly for themselves.
Then we went to Basilica of St. Mary, picked up up our palms, and settled in for the long Gospel, the Passion, this years version according to St. Mark, Chapter 14:1 – 15:47. (There are three versions of the Passion, and they rotate each year.)
This year, probably because of the juxtaposition of Haiti’s most recent uninvited and undeserved catastrophe with the frenzy to hopefully win the treasures of the Lottery, one section of the Passion particularly caught my attention.
Here it is as recorded in my Grandma Bernard’s 1912 edition of the Douay-Rheims (Catholic) Bible:
“And when he was in Bethania, in the house of Simon the leper, and was at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment of precious spikenard: and breaking the alabaster box she poured it out upon his head.
Now there were some that had indignation with themselves, and said: Why was this waste of the ointment made?
For this ointment might have been sold for more than three hundred pence, and given to the poor. And they murmured against her.
But Jesus said: Let her alone, why do you molest her? She hath wrought a good work upon me.
For the poor you have always with you: and whensoever you will, you may do them good: but me you have not always.
She hath done what she could : she is come beforehand to anoint my body for the burial.” (Mark 14:3-8)
Every Catholic who darkened a church door today heard this Gospel, and likely some in other denominations as well.
Last week, some of us were having a little debate about the relative merits/demerits of the Lottery, and the ‘feeding frenzy’ for tickets as the Jackpot went up into the stratosphere.
The conversation got around to the evil of taxes (the winnings are taxed), and giving contributions after winning, etc. There were many points of view, even among the few of us in the little conversation.
Then comes this piece of text which can, doubtless, be ‘spun’ in many different ways, depending on what one wishes to believe.
Personally, I think the Christian Scripture (aka New Testament), including this particular text, is not a comfortable collection of thoughts for the wealthy Christian…and by any measure of this or any other time, Americans are a very wealthy society. That’s probably why the Hebrew Scriptures (aka Old Testament) are much more comfortable to the set that gives deference to wars and kings and such….
But, what does the text from this morning mean?
Or, rather, what did Jesus mean?
UPDATE April 4:
John Borgen: I am rereading one of my favorite books, The Hebrew Bible, A Socio-Literary Introduction by Norman Gottwald. In it he continues to observe that the admonitions of the prophets to the Jews and Israelites, for over a thousand years, PRIOR to the time of Jesus, was to remind the well-off that they are not to exploit the poor, the peasants and those less fortunate than they are and to provide economic and social justice for all. The author suggests the book of Psalms upbraids wealthy Judeans and Isrealites for “pauperization of the populace through the manipulation of debt and confiscation procedures…”
The suggestion is that “Yahweh” punished the leaders in ancient times for the lack of economic and social justice which didn’t exist. Gottwald says these kinds of things throughout this interesting and challenging book.