Breaking the Flask

From Peter Kreeft’s little book ‘Jesus Shock’ here is the section on Adoration:

Watch how the wildness of man’s love for this wild love of man blows away boredom in the Gospel:

3* And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. 4 But there were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment thus wasted? 5 For this ointment might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, * and given to the poor.” And they reproached her. 6 But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7* For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you will, you can do good to them; but you will not always have me. 8* She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burying. 9 And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” 10* Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. (Mark 14:3-10)

Though the New Testament does not explicitly say so, the traditional interpretation identifies this woman as Mary Magdalene.  Imagine: a former prostitute adoring Jesus! Imagine: a year’s wages (and remember how those wages had been earned!) “wasted” on a single bottle of perfume, and then the perfume “wasted” by spilling it all out at once on His dirty hair!  You need only be prudent and reasonable This money could have saved a dozen families from poverty.

No imaging another scene, 1500 years later. Imagine a tortured but pious and brilliant homosexual artist commissioned by the Pope himself to design the central church in all Christendom for the rest of time.  Imagine half the world’s god wasted on this church when half the world is in poverty. You see? It’s the same story. It continues. And we continue to be tempted to side with Judas instead of Jesus.

We know the end of Judas’s story: we know the two deeds of death he was responsible for, first Christ’s and then his own, the two most important people in the world to him, the only two from whom he could never escape, in time or in eternity.  His physical suicide came only after his spiritual suicide, which happened in the Gospel story.  What prompted him to betray Jesus then? What did Mary Magdelene do that was so outrageous that Judas responded to it by choosing damnation?

The answer, in one word,is adoration.  That is the definitive and eternal answer to the problem of boredom, because that is the business of Heaven.  Everything smaller than Heaven bores us because only Heaven is bigger than our hearts.  And if we turn away from adoration in disgust, as Judas did, for any reason whatsoever, however prudent, then we turn from Him and from Heaven.  That’s what Michal did when David danced in adoration before God’s Ark (2 Samuel 6:16).

Adoration is love unlimited, love squared, love raised to infinity by the exponent of love itself.  Adoration is the mountain without a summit, the Jacob’s Ladder that extends into the sky forever.  Only god may be adored, because only God is unlimited goodness, truth, and beauty, and thus only God deserves unlimited love.  Our very ‘first and greatest commandment’ is to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mk 12:30).  If we give that love to any creature, even our spouse, we commit adultery against God.  That is what idolatry is: spiritual adultery.  Alas, we all commit spiritual adultery — with ourselves.  We are commanded to love our neighbor only ‘as ourselves’ — and we are certainly not to adore ourselves.  That is why we are not to adore our neighbor.  We must not treat anyone, whether ourselves or our neighbors, as God, by loving them with our whole heart.  And we are certainly not to give our whole heart to stuff. Even stupider is to give our whole heart to money, which is only stuff to exchange for stuff. And that’s what Judas did.

When she was a prostitute, Mary Magdelene did not love herself, or God, or the men she seduced.  She loved the stuff she bought with the money, and she loved the money she bought with her body, and she loved her body only because it could buy the men and their money and the stuff –like expensive perfume.  Then she exchanged autonomy for adoration, and gave all her soul and all her body and all her life and all her money and all her stuff to Christ.  That perfume was the stuff and the money and the men and the prostitution and her life and her heart, all rolled into one ball.  That’s the ball she gave to Christ, like a good dog, instead of holding on to it, like a bad dog.  And that is the secret of joy.  We can learn it even from our dogs.  Christ teaches us joy through our dogs, but we don’t listen.

Plotting and planning and buying and selling are boring.  Economics is ‘the grey science’, even though it’s perfectly honorable and necessary.  But giving it all away is not boring. The rich fop Francis of Assisi was bored all his life — until he fell in love with Christ and gave all his stuff away and became the troubadour of Lady Poverty.  St Paul used a striking word for this ‘stuff’ — that is, for everything else in the world except Christ — when he called it skubala in Philippians 3:8-10.  It is a four-letter word in English, and it begins with an “s”.  The strong, bold, honest, and literal King James Bible translators let us know what it meant: “dung”.

But this was expensive dung.  To the rest of the world, Paul’s skubala didn’t stink. Paul had known the very best the world could offer: Roman citizenship, education at the feet of Gamaliel, “the Light of Israel”, prestige and power among both Jews and Romans.  He even knew moral “success” by the standards of the most morally rigorous sect of the most morally rigorous religion (Judaism) in the world: he was “a Pharisee of the Pharisees as touching the law, blameless”.  And he laid all this stuff at the feet of Christ and called it skubala.  Why?  For the same reason Dante could see the most beautiful woman in the world as a bagel compared with Beatrice: because love gives you eyes.

Love is reasonable in the deepest sense, and therefore unreasonable in the normal sense.  The deepest sense of “reason” is the rule of the three R’s: “right response to reality”.  The normal, shallower sense of “reason is “practical prudence”.  That’s fine for finitude, but infinity demands insanity.  The The crazy love of a saint is reasonable because it is the only right response to the reality of infinity.  It is reasonable to love the Absolute absolutely for the same reason it is reasonable to love the relative relatively.  And it is just as unreasonable to love the Absolute and the Infinite  with a relative and finite love, that is, to be prudent and practical like Judas in the the presence of Christ, as it is to love th relative and the finite with an idolatrously absolute and infinite love.  It is just as crazy not to be crazy about Christ as it is to be crazy about anything else.  He is “not Yes and No but pure Yes” (I Corinthians 1:19), and therefore the saint loves Him with a pure Yes.

This is the heart and essence of true religion.  And it is madness by the world’s standards. (Freud was honest enought to call it that, literally.)  The madness of Mary’s adoration moved Judas to the madness of self-damnation.  John’s Gospel notes that Satan entered Judas also when Judas witnessed two other similarly mad acts of love: first, Christ washing His disciples feet, and then Christ given them His won body and blood in the first Eucharist in the Upper Room (John 13:1-30).  Judas saw the purest love evern seen on earth and could not endure the sight, so he put out his own eyes.  He saw Heaven on earth and could not endure it, and that non-endurance is the only reason why there is Hell.

On another occasion, we see the same fanatic love in another Mary provoking a little bit of the same “reasonable” prudence in Martha as we saw in Judas. But unlike Judas, Martha later listened and learned.

38* Now as they went on their way, he entered a village; and a woman named Martha received him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.40 But Martha was distracted with much serving; and she went to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 41* But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; 42 one thing is needful. * Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.”

Martha’s sould is divided.  It is given to Jesus but also to “stuff”, and therefore to anxiety — though it was worry that was asphyxiating her spirit, not greed, as it was for Judas.  Martha’s soul is given to “many things”, but Mary’s soul is given to Jesus only.  Martha is “reasonable”, but Mary is not. Mary simply does not worry or calculate about the “many things” when Jesus comes.  She wont let any of the many block the Son of the ONe.  She holds nothing back.  She does not contracept her love.  She gives Him not just her serving, like Martha, but her self. Se is the true romantic.  She sells all her pearls for one “pearl of great price”, risks all her wealth on one investment.  She does not use the safety net of a spiritual mutual fund.  She knows the holy wildness of all or nothing, of the “one thing needful.” She knows that “in the end life contains only one tragedy: not to have been a saint” (Leon Bloy’s ending of The Woman Who Was Poor). (That one sentence is worth more than all the other books in your library).

This is true not because sanctity is adorable, but because Christ is.  That’s what sanctity means.  There is nothing, literally nothing in the beauty of the saint ecept the beauty of Christ.  The saint takes an infinite risk, a “leap of faith”, and this is beautiful, and also the answer to boredom but the infinite risk is not the cause of the infinite beauty, the infinite beauty (Christ) is the cause of the infinite risk.  If Christ were dead, the leap would not be beautiful, good, true, or wonderful. It would be ugly, bad, stupid, and boring.  If Jesus is not alive, neither is “Jesus-shock”. The effect depends on the cause. If Christ is not raised, our faith is vain and we are pitiable (I Corinthians 15:17-10).

The effect proves the cause.  “Jesus-shock” proves that Jesus is alive. Only a live wire can shock you. Ad dead wire can’t.

When the electricity goes out of the wire, everything looks the same. The wire is still there, with the same shape and size and color.  Churches still stand, and pews are still occupied. But nobody is shocked.

Are you?

If not, you know Who to go to.

Accept no substitutes. “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”










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