Herein is the conundrum that makes us hesitant about change and its effects. For all our attention is on the past, no matter how we try to capitalize on something innovative it is our past experience that colours our experience of the innovation. No matter what the change is, we are shaped by what has gone before. It may be a past Rector, it may be a past government or it may even be our past liturgical experience. Our experience of what has gone before shapes our response to the new and innovative within the context of our lives. Unless we can understand the requirement for change in terms of that past there is a reluctance to move into the uncertainty of the future that is being created by God's presence in our lives. This is normal. Our fears ground us in the present which is shaped by the past and has little to offer towards the future.
Sometimes though we come to a point where the way forward is so new and different that we are unable to come from the past and bridge the gap into the future. The Israelites probably felt this chasm of uncertainty at the time that Isaiah is prophesying. They cannot see beyond the gulf that irrupts in front of them preventing them from moving into a new future and leaving the past behind. Even if, like Moses, they need to be led into the desert to see the life giving water that God will provide (Is. 43.20). Our laws, our interpretations, our worship experience are nothing in comparison to Gods working in our lives and yet it is on these that we focus our attention in the present. How can we tweak this to make it more of an experience? How can we ensure that everyone gets the same experience? We lay down our methods and stick to them like laws. We legislate to ensure that the Church's interpretation is accepted? But God is doing something new each and every day...
At this stage in our Lenten journey we need to be acutely aware of God's presence in our lives. We cannot stay embedded within our past lives even if they influence our future and are acknowledged in the present. Paul clearly believes that there is something new happening as he writes of all that has gone before (Phil 3.7). Don't mistake him or me, the past has formed us and influences us. What Paul and I am saying here is that we should not be dwelling in the past. Our past ceremonies, creeds, beliefs are all open to God's doing something new. If we cling to tightly to our past lives, our past way of living we do not grow towards Christ and we do not gain anything from our Lenten journey. We are unable to see the new that God is creating. We are re-formed as we approach the cross, we are re-formed as we move into the liminal space of Holy Saturday. God calls us into newness as she/he/it/? continues to do something new in our lives each day if we are prepared to open our hearts and eyes to the newness of God's call.
What cost are we prepared to pay to enter into new life?
Judas' expectation is of a continuation of giving to the poor rather than the extravagance of the completely unexpected event of Mary's anointing Christ's feet (Jn 12.3-4). Our understanding is often one that sticks with the tried and true. The response of Judas leaves us open to a continuing pattern of hand outs to those who are looking for betterment. It is best summed up in the proverb about giving and teaching within a fishing context (Give a man a fish and he will be hungry within an hour: teach him to fish and he will feed his family). If we are creative in responding to God's presence in our lives we will be able to bring that joy and love into the lives of others. Yes, by all means help those who are without but at the same time acknowledge that our inadequate response is not going to alleviate the continuing presence of the poor, if anything it is only going to exacerbate the issue, which does not mean we give up.
Mary's response is extravagant. She empties everything of value at the feet of Christ. She does not cling to what was probably very precious to her and in her life. She emptied it out. Until we change the structure of our society and the structure of our lives. Until we learn to do away with what is most precious to us, the have nots are going to continue to exist. Until we understand the extravagant giving of God's love in our lives we will be unable to appreciate the things that God is doing each and every day. Unless we have the faith to follow God's call into what appears to be places of dryness and non-welcome we will miss the new thing God is doing.