Summary: When we over-think our lives and faith, we often under-live them.
I had the opportunity, recently, to perform an audit and balance the books of the department where I work. I'm still not quite sure what I did wrong to have earned that very special blessing. There are few things I enjoy less on this earth than working with numbers. There is a reason that I married a math professor! We have a great relationship. I don't worry about balancing the checkbook and she doesn't worry about the eschatological implications of Paul's ecclesiology. It's a good system we have. I tried to explain it to my boss, but he didn't quite see it my way. I told him that if, out of a whole department of chaplains, I'm the one he wants to balance the books, then I have no doubt that he believes in salvation by grace through faith; I'm just not sure he understands that Paul was talking about salvation in a much more generalized fashion.
...God bless the bean-counters, the list-makers, and the number-crunchers! They make our lives run on time, keep us grounded, and have helped to engineer and preserve most of the conveniences of our modern world. They are logical, practical, and absolutely essential to any successful endeavor...unless that endeavor is directly related to one's spiritual life. When it comes to spiritual things...our relationships with God and one another, finding meaning in life, and developing devotion towards that which is good and right and true...when it comes to these things, the accounting skills that are so helpful in most of life become a distraction at best, and, at worst, may only serve to suck the life right out of our souls.
Not everything can or should be quantified, analyzed, and classified. Its a nice bag of tricks to have handy when you're dealing with mere things: numbers, widgets, and the like. But when relationships are involved its best to stay as far away from that kind of precision as possible. Misunderstanding and/or not appreciating this truth has resulted in the death toll for no telling how many romances, marriages, partnerships, and communities. The very moment we begin to analyze our happiness, peace, love, commitment, and/or joy is the moment that they begin to fade. Looking too deeply into one's ability to worship and pray is a sure way to destroy that ability altogether. The roots of our intuition, our emotions and our values seldom bear direct scrutiny or prolonged analysis.
Do you remember your first real kiss? Maybe your first several real kisses? I do. I remember the sweaty palms, my heart banging in my chest, and the constant worry that maybe I was doing something wrong...which usually meant that I was, in fact, doing something wrong. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to be good at kissing while thinking about how to be good at kissing?
--I agree with the little green guy from Star Wars on this one; when it comes to kissing, or courtship, or friendship, or any other kind of making or expressing love and affection, "Try not. Do or do not; there is no try." Trying, in this sense, involves thinking things through and attempting to apply one's reasoning to the situation at hand...and it is a disaster for relationships, because it turns loving into manipulation and relating into acting. It is, quite literally, a "put on," and, no matter how innocently concieved or well intentioned, it is a lie because your thinking masks or redirects your feeling. The perfect kiss just happens; it is raw, primal, unsophisticated and innocent.
Which takes us to the heart of the conflict between Judas and Mary in this morning’s reading from the gospel of John (12:1-11). In what I imagine was a moment of impassioned gratitude and love, Mary takes an outrageously expensive amount of perfume and begins to wash Jesus’ feet. To the outside observer, this was a public display of affection bordering on the obscene. At least, that’s how Judas saw it: obscene, not necessarily for any overtly sexual connotation, but because of its excess.
•Mary saw the opportunity to symbolically pour out her affection, while Judas saw a year’s salary going down the drain.
•Mary was overcome with joy for the Lord, while Judas was overwrought with anxiety about the waste.
•While Mary was lost in the ecstasy of worship, Judas was busy doing the math.
The writer of John seems to think that Judas’ problem was greed, and that must certainly have been a major issue. But Judas’ main problem was much more subtle and, therefore, far more dangerous. Judas’ main problem was not what he may or may not have wanted to spend the value of a pint of expensive perfume on. Judas’ main problem is that he did the calculation in the first place. In that moment of extravagant worship, a little bit of God’s glory began to shine through the dark web of time and space and Judas, instead of participating in or simply enjoying the moment, was over in his metaphorical corner murmuring to himself: