There’s a pointed story in the Christian Gospels. Jesus is on the eve of his Passion. He’s having dinner at the home of a man called Simon the Leper, when a woman enters with an expensive alabaster jar of perfume. She anoints Jesus’ head with the costly ointment, a lavish gesture of gratitude and love. The disciples at the table are outraged. The balm could have been sold and the money used for charity! Jesus says, “Why criticize this woman for doing such a good thing to me? You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” (Matthew 26:10-11)
Clearly, Jesus wasn’t telling us to neglect the poor. Just hours later he would deliver his sharpest parable about the future, warning that we will be judged on whether we helped “the least” in our midst.
No, this story is about something else. It’s about balance. It dissolves a false duality expressed in many ways: navel gazing vs. activism, personal vs. social gospel, the monastery vs. the streets.
I believe the revolution necessary for our spiritual journey happens on both fronts. I believe we should ask ourselves some fundamental questions. Does my religion/philosophy challenge me to be engaged in both the development of my character AND the causes of the oppressed? Do I see the need for both inner and outer (r)evolution?
I have friends so consumed with their prophetic zeal to confront injustice that they no longer hear the bitter edge in their voices. I know others so cloistered in community, so insulated from the “madding crowds,” that they have become culturally illiterate.
We need to embed in our DNA a basic praxis – a discipline – that keeps us sane.
When we let righteous anger fill us with resent, it’s time to retreat into meditation. There we can remind ourselves that though we have chosen a “walk-on part” in the age-old struggle for justice, this labor will continue long after our brief existence. Meanwhile, are we enjoying the love of others, the beauty of creation, and the daily miracles of life?
When we get too absorbed in personal change, armed with a battery of “self-help” books, it’s time to lift our heads. We look beyond ourselves and see the suffering of others, especially those ground under the boot of a military/corporate culture in which we are complicit.
This is the rhythm – seeking inward transformation through grace and peace, but never shirking our communal responsibility to serve.
For Christians, there’s an aftermath to the story of the woman with the alabaster jar. We believe that through spiritual reflection – through the life of the Spirit – Jesus is always with us. We can, like that woman, feel gratitude for the totality of his teachings. Confront injustice, but remember to love our enemies. Keep an eye to the coming age, but relish the present as deeply as the lilies of the field. Follow our “religion,” but always recognize when it needs reformation.
I have often said viva la lucha, meaning solidarity with those who struggle to shake off tyranny. More and more, I am now saying viva las dos luchas!
Long live the TWO (r)evolutions!
Be blessed, my friends.