THE COST OF LOVE
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ IS 42:1-7; JN 12:1-11]
Monday of Holy Week
1Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him, he will bring forth justice to the nations. 2He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; 3a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.4He will not fail or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law. 5Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread forth the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: 6″I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, 7to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.
Psalms 27:1-3, 13-14
1The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? 2When evildoers assail me, uttering slanders against me, my adversaries and foes, they shall stumble and fall.3Though a host encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident. 13I believe that I shall see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living!14Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; yea, wait for the LORD!
1Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Laz’arus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2There they made him a supper; Martha served, and Laz’arus was one of those at table with him. 3Mary took a pound of costly ointment of pure nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment. 4But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was to betray him), said,5″Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” 6This he said, not that he cared for the poor but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box he used to take what was put into it.7Jesus said, “Let her alone, let her keep it for the day of my burial. 8The poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”9When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came, not only on account of Jesus but also to see Laz’arus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10So the chief priests planned to put Laz’arus also to death,11because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.
“Why wasn’t this ointment sold for three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor?” That seems to be a reasonable and logical criticism of what Mary did when she “brought in a pound of very costly ointment, pure nard, and with it anointed the feet of Jesus.” How many of us would agree with Judas that it was a waste of money? Furthermore, when you think of the many poor and suffering people in the world, it would seem that Mary had committed a great sin of wastefulness. If we go by this reasoning, then perhaps, all the Churches’ treasures should be sold and given to the poor. All the expensive and fine vestments, sacred vessels, including the chalice, should be made of wood or metal. Then all churches should be built with the basic practical needs, without any frills or concern for aesthetics. Then again, if the Lord were to dwell in such a temple, so too, all our homes must be stripped of all unnecessary items. And we should save the money spent on expensive wedding gowns, which are used once only and then set aside, and not hold any grand dinners too because most of the time, much food is thrown away, especially at buffets! Such reasoning can go on and on. We will have divided opinions and never come to any consensus.
What was the response of Jesus? “Leave her alone; she had to keep this scent for the day of my burial. You have the poor with you always, you will not always have me.” Indeed, we are all obliged to help the poor and the suffering. But we need to see things in perspective. Some things cannot be measured by money and time. Actions of love cannot be quantified or calculated like a mathematical problem. True love does not count the cost because it is not logical. Daily life examples should convince us. There are many mothers who are professionals and busy career women. Yet they would wake up early in the morning to prepare breakfast for their children rather than let the domestic helper do it. Why? Because they love their children and want them to have a proper breakfast and also to pack for them a healthy and sumptuous lunch. For the same reason, they would rush home from work to pick up their children or chauffeur them to school and for their activities. Some of them are old enough to take public transport on their own. Yet they do it because they love their children and cannot bear to see them suffer the inconvenience. Logically, it is also economical for them to go home on their own than to waste the precious time of their parents. Furthermore, it is good for discipline and formation as well, lest they become too demanding and take their comforts for granted.
The truth is that when we love, we do not act rationally but we allow the heart to express itself spontaneously. We do not really think of the trouble and inconvenience when we reach out to someone we love. The immediate and spontaneous response is to make our beloved feel loved and comfortable. We do not count the cost because the heart only knows that love is all that matters. We are always lavish and generous with people we love. We cannot say ‘No’ to our loved ones even though we know at times that it is not good to pamper them. But love is such.
Conversely, if we act and think like Judas, it is because we are not sincere in love. Judas had no real love for Jesus. He was more concerned about his interest than that of Jesus’, and lesser still for the poor. The evangelist commented, “He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he was in charge of the common fund and used to help himself to the contributions.” Clearly, such objections do not hold water for those who harbor selfish motives. We must therefore ask ourselves when speaking against such extravagance; whether it is because our pockets are hurt. Of course, not all are motivated by selfishness when they speak out against such apparent extravagance.
When we take a logical and financial stance, it is more likely because we are detached from the person concerned. In other words, when we have no personal relationship, that person becomes just a case, and we use pure objectivity in assessing our response to the needs of the person. In public decisions affecting the interests of everyone, as in an organization or society, we need to be transparent, objective and impartial in making decisions, without fear or favor. This is to ensure that justice and fair play prevail. We cannot allow our emotional ties or vested interests to influence us in the way we make decisions. When we are not emotionally related to a person, we can of course think and act logically.
But when we are speaking about love and relationship, it is a different ball game. Does a judge in the court behave like a judge at home, analyzing the needs of the family according to pure logic alone? Does not a judge also have compassion for his or her son even if he commits a crime? Surely, he or she will get the best lawyer to defend him. This is not to say that he or she will hide the guilt, but he or she will find the best defence so that the son would not be punished too harshly. So often, we have those in authority protecting their loved ones by covering up for their mistakes.
So with our loved ones, we use the heart rather than the head. This is inevitable! Isn’t that the way God acts? Because He loves us, His way of rendering justice to sinners and evil people is to forgive us and to save us; not to punish us! As our loving Father, He has no heart to punish us because it grieves Him as much to see us suffer. When God saw the world in sin, during the time of Noah, He grieved. “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” (Gn 6:5f)
So like God, we love and care for our loved ones in this manner. Whether your darling is your spouse, friend or even a dog or cat, you act in the same manner. When your dog is old and sickly, why do you spend so much money bringing it to the vet? Isn’t it better to let the dog die and get a new one, which is much cheaper? But you cannot buy emotional ties and happy memories. You cannot buy love and affection. There is no price for that! This explains why animal lovers would do anything for stray animals, cats, dogs, birds, etc. They would tend to them especially when they are sick or wounded and feed them when they are hungry. They feel for and with the hurting and hungry animals. When we see them scavanging for food, we feel sorry for them.
So the reality is that we do not feel for what we do not see. If we do not see something with our own eyes, we are not emotionally moved. When we do not see them hungry and without shelter, we think such stray animals are a nuisance. St Teresa of Calcutta started to reach out to the poorest of the poor only because she came into contact with the suffering in India. To see them suffering grieved her heart like God who grieves for us. When you see someone on the road, thin to the bones, won’t you be moved by the sufferings of your fellowman? Unless you have hardened your heart like Judas, you will stretch out to help. The priests had no compassion for Lazarus and even wanted to kill him because “it was on his account that many of the Jews were leaving them and believing in Jesus.” What if Lazarus was one of their children, or their loved one? Would they see Jesus differently? Of course! They would be grateful to Jesus. But because of selfish interests, they saw Jesus and even Lazarus as a threat to their status quo and greed.
Jesus is our exemplar in love. He is the model of the suffering servant, giving without reservation, as expressed in the first reading. He was endowed with the Spirit of God to bring justice, hope, healing, enlightenment and freedom to the poor, the discouraged, the sick, the prisoners and those who live in darkness. We too must follow Jesus in the way of love. Let us use our heart to love and not our head so that we can feel the heart of God.
In the final analysis, to love the way Jesus loved, and how God loves us, we need His Spirit to “bring true justice to the nations.” The strength and capacity of His love came from His Father. He was full of compassion even towards His enemies. His sense of justice and passion for His mission came from the Father’s love in Him. He lived and died for His Father. Even when persecuted, condemned and crucified, He never failed to cling to His Father; “The Lord is my light and my help; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; before whom shall I shrink? I am sure I shall see the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living. Hope in him, hold firm and take heart. Hope in the Lord!” Both Father and Son, because of their deep love for us, emptied themselves of each other for the sake of us all so that we will never doubt their unconditional and total love for us.