The opening scene in the pilot episode of this dark comedy shows Wayne and his kids at a high school class reunion. Wayne has posed as another guest, a comedian, who is supposed to entertain the crowd. In the meantime he and the kids are stealing out of coats, pockets, and purses. They make a hilarious get away just before they would have been caught. Next we learn that they are on their way to pick up Dahlia, the wife and mother, who is being released from prison for stealing. From here they end up back at the family gathering place where the entire band of Travelers has gathered. The show takes a dark turn with the release of Dahlia. While Wayne is often funny, Minnie Driver brilliantly portrays Dahlia as someone on the edge of sanity.
Dahlia is a member of the royalty of this vagabond group of travelers and the large extended family treasurers her. All is going well until the clan leader tells Wayne and Dahlia that their daughter has to marry a dim witted young man from another family. Wayne refuses and the family flees looking for a better place to live. But trouble will follow them; it’s not so easy to get out of this family of thieves and travelers.
On the road Wayne and Dahlia come upon a terrible car accident. In a desperate effort they try to save the injured couple, but cannot. There is a scene played exquisitely by Izzard as he ponders what to do next…all this emotion crosses over his face in a moment’s time.
And what he decides to do shapes the plot for the series: they take over the identities of this couple, a very wealthy couple who were just about to move into a new home in a new town. It’s perfect; no one knows the couple or anything about them. It is easy for them to move in and start a life…
Whether or not I continue to watch the series remains to be seen. But I am intrigued by any show that attempts to unpack the complexity of human life and the fine line we walk between making the right decision and the wrong one. It’s hard to know if Wayne is a bad person or a good person who has just made some bad choices…
And that is our question for today: can you think of a time in your life when you had to make a decision but you weren’t quite sure what the right thing to do was?
I mean the right thing to do in terms of what God wants for us: to make decisions that improve our relationships with God, with one another, and with ourselves. At the very least to avoid decisions that hurt others, hurt ourselves, or hurt our relationship with God.
Maybe this kind of decision was as simple as choosing to let someone into the lane in front of you instead of being impatient with the traffic? Maybe this decision was about being nice to that person who really annoys you? Maybe that decision was about being a truth teller – you know some one is doing something wrong at work or at school, but do you tell or not?
Think of a time when you have encountered something like this in your life. Now, you don’t need to share the circumstances but can you share what it felt like to face such a decision?
Maybe you only came to realize that the decision was good or bad after you had already lived into it…what did it feel like then, to face the consequences of a bad decision?
Were you able to admit it to yourself? To others?
Well today our Gospel reading compares the decisions and actions of Mary and contrasts them with the decisions and actions of Judas, each making significant decisions.
Judas’ decisions are covert and secretive. He acts like he is doing one thing, when he is actually doing another – he says, “couldn’t you have sold that nard and used the money for the poor” – but what he is really doing is embezzling from the money that ought to go to the poor. He is a thief.
And now Jesus has given him the opportunity to rethink his actions, to do something different. And what does he do? We know; we know the rest of the story…
But at this moment in time, in the context of our reading, Judas may not know exactly what he will do. Maybe he will spend the next few hours or days pondering his plan…maybe he is already certain what he will do…Of course we know he makes a bad decision. He sells Jesus to the Roman soldiers and causes Jesus’ death. He does this for money. Perhaps more money than he has ever seen before. Perhaps he thinks it will be great to have money, that all of his problems will be solved, that he will be happy…but then, unable to live with the consequences of this decision: the loss of his friends, the death of Jesus, the reality of what he has really done… he takes his own life.
But Mary… She makes some very different choices. She has been a disciple, a friend, a follower of Jesus for some time. Jesus is her friend, a family friend to Mary, Martha, and their brother Lazarus. In fact, if we had read one chapter earlier we’d know that Jesus has just raised Lazarus from the dead and they are having a meal together. Somehow Mary knows that Jesus’ time is short, that who he is will cost him his life. He is too kind. He is too accepting. He loves every one equally. He threatens the leaders of the community and he threatens the Romans as well. He will not be able to continue this way.
And knowing this Mary comes to anoint Jesus. She brings the best of oils.
When I was a massage therapist I loved using good oil with a gentle fragrance. Good oil glides on better and feels wonderful. A gentle fragrance lingers with you and reminds one of the treatment. It’s like whenever we are anointed using the chrism oil. This oil is scented with a wonderful fragrance, made of ancient herbs. We use it for all our baptisms and we use it whenever we anoint one another with prayers for healing. It carries with it the scent of healing that comes from one of our deepest primary sacraments the new life of baptism.
It is this kind of healing that Mary offers Jesus. It is a deep healing that is not about curing the body of illness, but of restoring the soul to its relationship with God, of filling us with a profound sense of peace. The peace of Christ is just this, a fragrant sense of deep inner peace.
The traditional Christian understanding of who Jesus is and his relationship to God tells us that Jesus would not need healing, the spirit of Jesus is divine, of God, he is already whole.
But Jesus is also human. And the human in him would be filled with some anxiety, some trepidation of what was about to come to fruition. In the Gospel of John Jesus knows who he is and what is going to happen, he is the Word of God expressed into this world from the beginning of creation, speaking God in all the earth. But now, the Word of God is also a man about to face a terrible trauma.
And Mary cares for him. Her actions are not hidden or secretive but open and public. In the Gospel of John, all things that are of God are things that happen in the light, in the open. Mary is of God and she is meeting God’s son and caring for him in a time of need.
Mary rubs Jesus feet with her hair and takes into herself the essence of Jesus, the same essence that fills the oil with fragrance.
In their two decisions Judas and Mary portray for us the extremes of human life. One makes a clear decision that costs him his integrity and his life – he is lost. When we make decisions that cause a brokenness of relationship with God, or with other, or even with our selves, we too are lost. We too live in darkness.
As we approach Holy Week and the climax of the Christian story we will hear again and again about the lost and the broken: the disciples who deny Jesus and run away, the people who misunderstand and make bad choices. Bad choices that break relationship with God by denying God’s love poured out in Christ. Bad choices that break relationship with Jesus by running away and denying the friendship. Bad choices that break relationship with self by failing to be a person of integrity.
And then we will have Mary. Who builds relationship with God by caring for God’s love. Who builds relationship with Jesus, her friend. She stays by his side. She is there at the crucifixion and the cross. She never leaves him. She comforts his mother. And she comes to anoint his body once again in the tomb.
The power of the Christian story is one of ongoing possibility; no matter how tragic our lives, no matter how lost we are, God is with us. And sometimes God’s love is revealed to us through the person standing right next to us, caring for us. Like Mary caring for Jesus. All of his friends abandon him, but not Mary, she stays. And by staying she represents the love of God to him. Decisions like that are risky. But God is like that, loving us no matter the cost. Lucky for us, God finds someone through whom to pour out God’s love. Someone willing to make the right decision, one that builds healthy relationships, willing to do the hard work this takes.
So, this week, as you live out the Christian story of life and faith, as you make decisions in your every day life, pay attention to the tough ones, the decisions that make you pause and wonder, what do I do now? Think about Judas and Mary. Aim to make decisions that will bring you closer to God. Closer to other humans, caring deeply for others in our lives at work, school, or the neighborhood. Strive to be like Mary, open and public with your faith.