Is. 42:1-7 Jn. 12:1-11
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I must be honest: today’s Gospel reading makes me uncomfortable. It recounts the familiar story in which Jesus is in Bethany at a banquet and Mary lavishes a liter of expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet. At the sight of such a “waste,” the (supposedly) frugal Judas balks with horror claiming that the money could have gone toward helping the poor.
The reading goes on to say that, in actuality, Judas was not concerned about the poor but was rather in the habit of skimming the money bag for his own use. Even so, I am sure that Judas was not the only one wondering about a more reasonable use of something of such value. The disciples must have experienced at least some tension between their love for the Lord and their commitment to His love for the poor.
As a hospital chaplain, I have often stood by a trauma room in the emergency department or outside the door of an intensive care room while unit after unit of blood is being poured into a critically injured patient, often at death’s very door. The sense of urgency and focused intensity of the medical personnel is all about saving the person’s life – no matter how the injury came about. Whether the patient is the innocent victim of an accident or someone involved in a criminal activity, at that moment, a life is a life and nothing is spared to save that precious human life.
Unfortunately sometimes, the human efforts are not enough to reverse a gravely precarious medical situation, and in spite of all, the person dies. The frenzied activity comes to a stop. “Twenty-one units of blood…!” someone might utter in dismay with an exhausted voice. Of course, this is not said with callousness and selfish calculation as Judas in the Gospel story. As a chaplain, I have come to understand that often nurses and doctors speak a kind of clinical language to convey difficult feelings. Yet, it is hard to resist wondering how else those twenty one units of blood might have been used instead….Blood is precious. Blood is in short supply. There are so many needs for transfusions and blood products and not enough donors.
We honor Jesus, God in human flesh and blood, when we value human life and treat all with the same dignity and worth as if it were He. At the same time, we also honor Him when we ask good questions about scarce resources and the common good. As Christians we live in that tension. Perhaps an alternative type of Lenten almsgiving might be to consider giving blood (for those who are eligible) if one has never done it before, or to do it again if one is not a regular donor. It is not only the giving of a medical good. When I sit in the Red Cross gurney, I pray for the person receiving my blood and it reminds me that we are all unworthy guests of a common banquet not of our own making.
Cristina Stevens, M.Div, BCC
Director of Clinical Pastoral Education
Pastoral Care at Saint Louis University Hospital