Spy Wednesday - Whom Seekest Thou: Restorative Easter Reflections

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

 




Just a note before we begin: “I’ll be using the phrase “the poor” in an attempt to echo the language used in the scriptures I reference here. However, outside this scriptural context, when poor is used to describe a group of people, it is easy to make negative generalizations and assumptions of laziness which often get linked to race and ethnicity. Instead, let’s expand our language by using phrases like low-income or people experiencing poverty as it removes negative generalizations, bias, and refers to a descriptor of state rather than a judgment or descriptor of people. This distinction is important because there are many systemic factors that contribute to poverty, as opposed to placing blame and responsibility solely on the individual experiencing poverty.”

When Mary of Bethany interrupts Jesus’s dinner to bathe and anoint him with expensive oil, she knows what she’s doing. She knows the city-stories and gossip about her: sinner woman. She knows intruding on a boys-only event is unacceptable. Bringing the best, most expensive gift of the evening? Absolutely not. And touching a man, Jesus nonetheless, with her hair, tears, hands, and lips? She wouldn’t dare. But as she swings open the door, the scent of perfumed commitment hangs on her every limb—she’s all in, sparing no expense and paying no mind. 

So in this way, it’s unsurprising to me that the men at the table feel it necessary to add their two scents, condemning her.

“To what purpose is this waste? For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor.”

On first read, it seems the disciples have a fair point. Why choose to pour out two-years salary worth of oil on Jesus, instead of giving money to the poor? (The option which the disciples clearly claim to be the more righteous one). And I wonder how often we do this to one another—turn up our noses at those doing something because we think we know the better and higher way to be an ally or an activist. “Why spend your time committing to anti-racism, when sexism needs your attention first? Why advocate for LGBTQ+ folks when poverty and classism must be addressed first?”

Yet is there really any first? Instead of thinking of these movements and issues as separate and isolated from each other, what if we learned to see how systems of oppression and domination uphold one another? Cisheteropatriarchy is invested in upholding white supremacy, which is invested in upholding capitalism which thus situates power at the feet of cis straight, white rich men and the systems that serve them. Were we to recognize an issue-based, intersectional approach, perhaps we could begin to see how both our freedom and our oppression is tied up in one anothers. 

And yet, Jesus throws a wrench into my argument because he kind of does say that there is a first, more urgent and pressing issue at hand. He says “You have the poor always with you; but me, you won’t always have.” I mean, he is right, he knows he’s dying in two days and he’s celebrating Mary’s timely act by silencing his disciples and standing up for her. Jesus continues to praise her and say, “Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, the story of what this woman hath done will be told for a memorial of her.”

So which is it? Are all issues important because systems are intersectional or are some issues truly more important than others? And what if somehow, in a cryptic Jesus way, it’s both?

Perhaps Jesus’s response speaks to the need for urgent attention given to life-threatening issues. Is this Jesus saying, yes guys, obviously take care of the poor, and yet what is the urgent issue? Is this Jesus saying yeah sure okay obviously all lives matter, and yet the urgent issue is naming that Black Lives Matter. I see Jesus here reminding us that we have to be able to connect movements and action as opposed to seeing them as oppositional, isolated, and individual. So in some way, Mary’s anointing—the act of giving her all in devotion—should cause us to think where we too can give our all. Her offensive breaking of cultural taboos and disruption of systems should cause us to think large and wide about where else we are called to give our finest, most devoted attention, thus building a global movement that cares for the many and not the few.

Mary’s act and Jesus’s response should remind us that dismantling, disrupting, deconstructing, and decolonizing are not metaphors like Tuck and Yang teach us. Mary doesn’t metaphorically break open an alabaster jar or simply talk about breaking it open. No, she is fully committed—glass shards, blood, and perfumated stench till the end. Like author Mikki Kendall writes, this is “fight[ing] against hunger as hard as you fight for abortion rightrs or equal pay. Understand that this isn’t a problem that can be addressed later.” This is getting Indigenous Lands back into Indigenous hands. This is national and civic responsibility for reparations. This is an end to police brutality and the murder of Black people. This is universal healthcare and accessibility. This is Jesus and the poor.

This is breaking our jars again and again, remembering those whom the system wants to forget.

Today, please consider joining us in donating to the LANDBACK Campaign from NDN Collective
From their website: “As NDN Collective, we are stepping into this legacy with the launch of the LANDBACK Campaign as a mechanism to connect, coordinate, resource and amplify this movement and the communities that are fighting for LANDBACK. The closure of Mount Rushmore, return of that land and all public lands in the Black Hills, South Dakota is our cornerstone battle, from which we will build out this campaign. Not only does Mount Rushmore sit in the heart of the sacred Black Hills, but it is an international symbol of white supremacy and colonization. To truly dismantle white supremacy and systems of oppression, we have to go back to the roots. Which, for us, is putting Indigenous Lands back in Indigenous hands.” To make a donation, visit them at landback.org/donate

Or Desert Indigenous Collective which is an Indigenous Mutual Aid group in Phoenix. Venmo them @desert-indigenous-collective

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