15 April 2019: Let us not adore the gods of utility

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Monday of Holy Week

Isaiah 42:1-7; John 12:1-11

‘Why wasn’t this ointment sold for three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor?’

 Clowning in Rome, is a book by Henri Nouwen. In it he narrates his experience of travelling, in Bus no. 64, from Termini Railway Station to St. Peter’s Basilica. Among his co-passengers he finds teachers, government servants, merchants and factory workers, all useful people for the society. Then he sees two cloistered nuns, all covered in black except the face. Among all these useful people, they strike him as the ‘useless ones’, who apparently served no social purpose! Moving ahead he sees many ‘useful’ buildings like shops, schools, offices and homes. Here and there he sees huge and empty churches, occupying much precious space ‘uselessly’ in a crowded city! If only they could be vacated for some relevant activity!

Returning to his room, after a cup of coffee, it strikes him that these two ‘useless’ realities – contemplative nuns and churches – are the ‘most useful’ spaces of the entire lot. They are people and spaces “wasted for God” and yet the most precious for humanity and hence the most useful. They were pointers to the final destiny of all the rest of human life and activity. What could be more useful than these?

Here is the meaning of the answer of Jesus to Judas’ question: ‘You have the poor with you always, you will not always have me.’ This is not a statement justifying the neglect of the poor. It is an antidote to our temptation to adore the gods of utility, as against the beauty of adoring the real God, the most useful of all useful realities, if at all we can use the term useful for it!

Persons are the most precious realities. And among these the Person of God is of infinite value. Our wasting of some time, things and people for him are the most precious investments in the world! Let us not be afraid to take out our ‘pound of very costly ointment, pure nard, and with it anoint the feet of Jesus’!

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