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I have this special edition of the Gospels that I take out ever so often. Even though it was published in 1928 I am sure that it I not worth much monetarily. It is printed on cheap paper and it is obviously not a topnotch printing job. It has a hand stamp on the inside cover “Made in Greece” and the language contained inside is not the ancient Greek of the texts, but the gospels in Modern Greek. I love running my fingers over the indentions on the cover of the four Evangelists Mark, Luke, Matthew and John to feel each faded impression on the cardboard. There is only one lithograph inside. It is the icon of Jesus the Pantocrator or “ruler of all” surrounded by four winged angels. Why does this black book, with broken and faded edges mean so much to me? It is not necessarily the book itself, but the person who originally owned it that it reminds me of when I hold it in the palm of my hands.
Ted Roligas was a family friend who attended the same church growing up. He was the local owner of the A&W Root beer drive inn on the outskirts of town that went out of business when more fast food places opened in Lincoln, Nebraska. Ted was part of a small immigrant community of Greeks in this pretty homogeneous town that owned quite a few of the restaurants of my youth. There was A & W, Kuhn’s Café and the epitome of eating joints: Papa John’s. I will confess that I spent many hours at Papa’s eating Gyros, huge pancakes and Greek salads. We once even had Thanksgiving Dinner there.
Ted ate there as well, especially when his drive inn went out of business and he made his money from a food stand that traveled from county fairs and events throughout Nebraska. As a matter of fact Ted and my father ate there together. When they didn’t eat they met there for coffee. This was one of the places in Lincoln where I was not known as Brian, but “Lee’s boy”. I am sure that is what I was known by Ted as well.
Ted showed a genuine interest when I decided to go into the ministry and made it clear that he was praying for me. Unlike many of the fundamentalists of my childhood, Ted didn’t seem to fit the definition. He ended up leaving the church I grew up in to return to the Greek Orthodox Church of his youth. For some reason I had a deep respect for him for doing this.
Ted passed away a few years ago and when he was ill and bedridden my father visited him. He passed his Greek devotional Bible on to my father so that he could pass it on to me. Ted thought that it might be something I could use in my ministry. Even though I remember very little of the ancient Greek language that I learned in seminary the presence of this book conjures up deep connections and relationships. It reminds me that I am not a self-made man, but I am connected to people who trust, believe and pray for me quite often. It is my bottle of expensive nard.
Today’s lesson is hard for us D.C. process oriented types. It means that Judas is wrong no matter how efficient, well run or mission oriented his keeping of the common purse was. I know he is a crook, but he is obviously an efficient one. He is too big to fail in the disciple’s system. He has organized the mission to the poor, itemized the amount needed for the giving and highlighted the best way to allocate funding. Not to mention that there is money left over for him to keep for himself. Judas is the one at the church meeting who always stops the creative thinking of money spending by declaring, “but we must be good stewards.”
So a stewardship lesson from Jesus Lent? Mary must be rich. She has nard which cost a years worth of salary. As a disciple of Christ she would be expected to kick that money into the common, socialist kitty. Instead she has listened closely to the words of Jesus and does this touching act of worship. She gets it. Jesus is going to die. Peter, Judas and the other disciples don’t get it. Remember Jesus even has to rebuke Peter by yelling, “get thee behind me Satan!” It is because Peter refuses to hear that his teacher will die. Mary is able to hear. She takes a very expensive product and uses it to prepare Jesus body for death.
The two ways of thinking couldn’t be more antithetical. One relies heavily on the process of collection and distribution, making sure that money is allocated correctly. The other is rooted in a deep love and care for the other. Mary’s type of ministry is much less effective in a profit margin oriented way of looking at missions, but she has shown in caring about relationship over process that she has began living the teachings of this teacher that she so dearly loves.
There is something in a human definition of faith that that reveals how fundamentally unjust God’s mercy and grace are distributed to the undeserving. It is an expensive balm that shouldn’t be wasted, right? There is God smearing it on the feet of drunks, thieves, murders, prostitutes and people like us. “don’t waste that! Be a good steward! There are the people in my neighborhood who need it more than that beast in solitary confinement!” Fortunately, God’s grace is more accepting than ours and divine stewardship spends more than it ever takes in, making the bank balance dip dangerously low.
If we have such a gracious God, how can we be anything but generous with what we have been entrusted in this world. We all should give more, live more and extravagantly “waste” our precious resources on others in celebration of Jesus’ sacrifice and the possibilities of resurrection that it gives us. When relationships trump process you will not mind giving of yourself and your resources. The common purse will swell an we will bring extravagant gifts for the well being of others. Even crooks like Judas will be welcomed to the table to share in Christ’s promise.
So, I return to my Bible given to me by Ted, my extravagant reminder that I must invest in others over banks, spread-sheets and counters. It reminds me that I can never give as much money, time or energy into others than God does, but I will die trying. How about you?
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