Both-And, not Either-Or
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” … Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” – John 12:1-5, 7-8
At Bible Study, a wise fellow in our church shared what he learned from another wise teacher. Put a question to twenty people in a room, and you’ll get twenty opinions (or more). Talk through those, discuss and listen, and they’ll settle into a few groupings of opinions. Talk some more, and the number of opinions will likely reduce further. Until there are two, which are in opposition.
It’s the opposition that is most needed, most desirable. The creative tension gives a stable foundation.
In one church, a painful rift developed between church members who wanted to use scarce funds to spruce up the church’s fellowship hall, which was showing its age, and those members who wanted the funds to go directly to needy persons. This was not a creative tension: it was divisive and bitter. I still recall the pastor preaching about it. He didn’t say what should be done with the funds. He identified that there were, at the moment, two kinds of people in the church: people of pilgrimage, with a calling to go to unknown places of service, and people of blessing, with a calling to give hospitality. What I remember mostly was how much love and respect he witnessed, for both. And that neither can be entirely faithful, without the other.
God of grace beyond measure or price, grant me the capacity to pour out care when the occasion is right, until my jar is drained. Grant me the tenacity to save and strategize, that your care may reach further still. Teach me to love, in every good way.
John A. Nelson is Pastor and Teacher of Church on the Hill, UCC, in Lenox, Massachusetts.