The Anointing at Bethany is a famous story of a woman anointing the feet of Jesus with Alabaster, and it is including in this upcoming Sunday’s Revised Common Lectionary reading in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 26.
The thing that strikes me about this story is this woman’s radical action, which seems excessive to the disciples so much so that it angered them and they said, “Why this waste? For this ointment could have been sold for a large sum, and the money given to the poor” (Matthew 26: 8-9).
Honestly, every time I read this story, I cringe a little, because I do feel like what this woman did was wasteful. I grew up in a household with limited means, and I learned early on what it meant to be thrifty.
When I first moved to the United States, I couldn’t believe the bargains found at places like Walmart! Seriously, who could ever imagine you could buy a toaster for $5?! This was unheard of where I grew up (in India) or where my family was (in Korea). I also couldn’t understand why the same things at Walmart were so much cheaper than at other grocery stores. I fell in love with Walmart. It was my favorite place to shop.
Then I read Barbara Ehrenrich’s book, Nickeled and Dimed, and I couldn’t believe the stories she told about Walmart in the narrative. I began to find out from other sources, like the documentary High Cost of Low Prices, about the real story behind why things were so cheap at Walmart. The low prices, in part, had to do with their business practices and how they treat—or more like—mistreat their workers. It was hard for me to stop shopping at Walmart. For someone who grew up with the mentality of saving every penny, I didn’t like the fact that I was paying more for the same products somewhere else.
And the reason I write this story as a Lenten reflection today is that sometimes when we want to live radically, it may seem excessive to others. I know many people who say, “I know I shouldn’t shop at Walmart, but the prices can’t be beat.” Sometimes our need to pinch every penny becomes a bigger priority than living faithfully so that all people can have dignity. The disciples were logically right to criticize the woman out loud. But you see, being followers of Christ, sometimes things should not be logical. Logic says shop at the cheapest place possible, our faith says, support businesses that treat people with dignity.
It’s not enough that we’re out there on picket lines or at rallies fighting for fair wages and higher minimum wages. What are you personally doing to contribute to the movement of raising the standards for all people so that all may work with dignity? How are you treating your employees, staff or interns? Are their working conditions dignified? Are you creating an environment where you are living out the values of dignity for all in your own work place and where you spend your money? Sure, there are lots of ways to be thrifty about how you run your organization or business but what does it mean to live out these values of dignity and justice? Sometimes it may seem excessive to others but that’s the faithful thing to do.
Learn more about ways people of faith are supporting Walmart workers standing up for fair wages and respect at work, calling for a workplace that allows ALL employees at Walmart to live and work with dignity.
This year, each Friday during Lent, IWJ's Organizing Director, Sung Yeon Choi-Morrow, will share reflections based on her pastoral education and experiences in the field helping to move the work for worker justice and a fair economy.