Fellow Passengers: This week’s Primary Passage* (John 12:1-12) transports me to the tiny Irish village of Tulaigh Mhór (Tullymore) in the green countryside of the Irish coast, where one of the town’s 52 residents has won the National Lottery. The basic plot of this wonderful comedy, Waking Ned Devine, centers on two elderly gentleman, Jackie O’Shea and Michael O’Sullivan, who discover that the late Ned Devine had held the winning ticket. The two best friends proceed to concoct a plot to pull the wool over the lottery official’s eyes, so that the entire town can enjoy the winnings. One of my favorite parts of the movie involves the subplot romance between single mom Maggie O’Toole and her courter Pig Finn. Pig is desperate to convince Maggie to marry him, and she would, were it not for the odor that stuck with Fin, due to his daily work with pigs. Many in the town try to help him out, giving him first one and then another variety of fruity soaps to cover the smell. Fin tries out one, and eagerly comes to his love with the news: I’ve been using some fruity soaps, to which Maggie responds: I’ve noticed. Well, come on then… Let’s get closer. Pig Finn: Oh, yes please, Maggie. They embrace, but it doesn’t work. Mid-kiss Maggie catches a whiff of something, and draws back. Fin tries to reassure her, It’s peaches, peach soap. Maggie: Oh no, it’s something else. Fin: Could be strawberries. But the scene ends in disappointment, as Maggie gives him the bad news, Oh no, sorry love, it’s still there. At one point in the movie she challenges him to simply leave the pigs, but Fin can’t do it; he loves his work, and besides, the pigs are his livelihood, and there aren’t a whole lot of options for making a living in Tullymore.
When we re-create the world of the gospels in our minds, we often use our eyes to envision the scenery, or our ears to imagine the sounds of the day. But we rarely use our noses. I suspect that the smells of first century Palestine would create quite a stir for those of us in the highly sanitized two-shower a day world of the 21st century. Jesus and the disciples lived well before the era of Dr. Scholl’s, and traveling by foot through the hot and dusty roads was bound to have created an entirely different olfactory world than we have experienced. It’s no wonder, then, that ceremonial foot-washing was part and parcel of the culture of the day. Mary took the ceremony a step further, though, as she used some fragrant perfume that had been saved for Jesus’ burial to cover the odor and welcome him into her abode. Her action caused a stir of its own, as Judas begrudged the use of such expensive perfume, and Jesus rushed to Mary’s defense, challenging his soon-to-be betrayer. The entire scene makes me wonder if Nikos Kazantzakis really was on to something when he wrote The Last Temptation of Christ. Perhaps there was a final temptation for Jesus to leave the work he was destined for, the passion of the cross, and enter into a different kind of passion, a romance with one of the Mary’s who anointed his feet so lavishly with the expensive perfume. At the end of the day though, in the biblical accounts as well as in Kazantzakis’ novel, Jesus remained true to his calling, to the unsanitized and bloody work of redemption. He ultimately resisted every temptation, including that of settling down, raising a family and fading into obscurity.
I’m not sure what this all means, but it does seem to me that we spend an awful lot of time combatting the smells that accompany our life and work. And the stories and their subplots probably have something to do with our competing desires to live a romanticized settled life in relative obscurity, versus living out a less than romantic calling that often gets messy and sweaty and at times can stink up to high heaven. If we’re going to opt for the latter, we best keep some fruity soap or some burial perfume handy.
How about you? Where does this Primary Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, etc.