What will we choose today?

But Jesus accepted the woman’s gift, and knew what it cost her

Matthew 26:6-16 Meanwhile [while Jewish leaders plotted his death], Jesus was in Bethany at the home of Simon … While he was eating, a woman came in with a beautiful alabaster jar of expensive perfume and poured it over his head. The disciples were indignant when they saw this. “What a waste!” they said. “It could have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor.” But Jesus, aware of this, replied, “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. She has poured this perfume on me to prepare my body for burial. … Then Judas Iscariot, one of the disciples, went to the leading priests and asked, “How much will you pay me to betray Jesus to you?” And they gave him thirty pieces of silver. From that time on, Judas began looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus.

Hebrews 12:15-16 Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many. Make sure that no one is immoral or godless like Esau, who traded his birthright as the firstborn son for a single meal.

Shutterstock: Tara Steffen

If you’ve been following this blog or have read Karis, All I See Is Grace, you know Karis identified closely with the woman in this story, seeing her life as perfume broken and poured out over the Body of Christ, the church.

But today I want to ask a simple question. Today, what choice will you and I make?

Every day we face the choice to offer ourselves to the Lord, pouring out our time, our talent, our treasure to honor him. Or to try to use our special status with God, as his beloved children, for our own benefit, twisting the Gospel into a tool of manipulation or a means of personal gain.

We see this blatantly on television, in politics, and sadly, in churches. In our own lives it may be more subtle, especially if we value the prestige that goes along with appearing godly or spiritual. What it costs us to actually be godly, following Jesus into places where we may suffer criticism and misunderstanding like the woman in this story, is a choice more difficult to make.

Whose approbation do we value most, Jesus’s or other people’s? Do we each have one or two or three people who know what that struggle looks like for us personally, what our specific vulnerabilities are to the enemy’s wiles? Each of us needs someone with whom we are transparent, who can support us in choosing God’s grace.

Because the choice comes to each one of us, whether in big ways or small.

They didn’t get it. Do we?

But Jesus knew

Matthew 26:1-4 Jesus said to his disciples, “As you know, Passover begins in two days, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” At that same time the leading priests and elders were meeting at the residence of Caiaphas, the high priest, plotting how to capture Jesus secretly and kill him. “But not during the Passover celebration,” they agreed, “or the people may riot.”

Hebrews 11:27-28 Moses kept right on going because he kept his eyes on the one who is invisible. It was by faith that he commanded the people of Israel to keep the Passover and to sprinkle blood on the doorposts so that the angel of death would not kill their firstborn sons.

Colossians 1:15 Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.

“No one expects the Spanish Inquisition.” Remember that silliness from Monty Python? It’s a wee bit of humor that keeps our family laughing in times of unexpected events. If we only knew what will happen next, we could better prepare for it, right?

It’s normal to feel anxious. Anxiety is fear, dread, and uneasiness about what may happen in the future, which usually resolves along with whatever we’re worrying about. Anxiety disorders, on the other hand, don’t resolve without help and treatment. According to the APA, anxiety disorders increased fourfold in 2020-2021 as compared with pre-Covid 2019:

7.4% – 8.6%

Range of average monthly percentages of U.S. adults reporting symptoms of anxiety, January–December 2019

28.2% – 37.2%

Range of average submonthly percentages of U.S. adults reporting symptoms of anxiety, April 2020–August 2021 

Not too surprising, right, that a worldwide pandemic and all its permutations would burst our bubble of optimism about the future? Once something we’re anxious about goes really badly, or when we’re shocked by a completely unexpected traumatic event, we’re more vulnerable to feeling anxious. I’ve had to fight anxiety about the births of each of my youngest children and my grandchildren, worrying that something will go wrong. I didn’t have that problem before Karis surprised us with a life-threatening congenital defect in her digestive tract.

Jesus told the disciples outright many times that he would be crucified. But they just couldn’t get it. If they had been paying better attention, they wouldn’t have been caught so flatfooted. You and I know what will happen to him on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of this week. What we don’t know is how this remembering may affect us.

But Jesus knows. He knows the treasures he has prepared for each one of us in this Holy Week. We can prepare by keeping our eyes on him, God made visible, and following where he leads us. Remember, our Father only gives good gifts to his children, even if we don’t immediately understand.

Shutterstock: vystekimages

Walk through this week with Jesus

But Jesus says, “You did it for me” by Ed Fox, from San Andrés Sajcabajá, Guatemala

Matthew 25:34-40 Then the King will say, “Come … For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me. … I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!

As we walk with Jesus through Holy Week, we can experience once again the way he identifies with us in our own much smaller suffering. As so many people are pouring out resources to care for victims of the war in Ukraine and in other places of deep need, Jesus says they are doing it for him. But first, he poured out his life for us.

Ed Fox, a childhood friend from Guatemala, responded to the last post, “Turn toward not away,” illustrating this. Thank you for sharing with us, Eddie.

Antigua, Guatemala (home of my brother Steve and Elaine) Holy Week sawdust carpets GettyImages-505656257

“This story and lesson from Karis’s and your experiences has touched me to the core. So many of the thoughts she expressed to you and in her journals are similar to my own.

My own dad experienced terrible physical and emotional suffering and anguish. He turned towards Jesus and not away. Until the day he died, I asked God to put at least some of Dad’s suffering on me, in part so he might finish the tasks God had given him as a Bible translator. He and Mom did indeed finish shortly before he passed away, and I think of your dear parents, as well, and Mary and myself, as we stumble to the finish line.

About six months following Dad’s departure to Heaven, my own chronic sufferings began and have never ended. Many friends in Guatemala consider my physical (and perhaps emotional) suffering to be a result of my own sin and shortcomings. The “health and wealth” gospel is the main thing going in many of the new Guatemalan congregations, both Evangelical and Catholic. On top of that is the reticence in Mayan culture to make public any illness or trouble in one’s own life. That has fed the idea that it is shameful or an embarrassment when one must ask for prayer. Most troubles in this life are considered to be brought on by one’s own failings and shortcomings.

My suffering, though, has drawn me much closer to Jesus. I believe Jesus has chosen me to walk with Him in His and other people’s sufferings. In turn, I have chosen, as Dad and Karis did, to walk with Jesus and do my best to encourage others along the way.

We have a choice. We can choose to suffer and walk with Jesus, or we can choose to suffer and be bitter and angry. As you say, we choose to turn towards, not away. Although God has provided me with many small encouragements and victories along the way, He has chosen not to heal me completely. I’m usually okay with that after 22 years, but not always! Mary hears my complaints nearly every day of our lives, and so does God!

I want to leave you with a song that encourages me in my pain. Thy will be done on earth as in Heaven.