Leonardo Da Vinci choose this moment of the disciples questioning to portray in his famous work on the wall of the Refectory at Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan. I remember looking up at the incredible fresco on my first day in Italy after a long flight and early morning arrival. Our group had mid-day tickets and we had managed to stay awake. (thanks to many stops for café)
The painting, high on the end wall was so big and yet so incredibly balanced. The 12 disciples almost came to life as they asked the question, “Surely not I, Lord?”
The men are grouped in conversation. They lean this way and that over the table of food and toward each other and yet the scene as a whole is visually balanced even while it is emotionally disrupted. Only Jesus is calm & knowing, seated right in the pivotal mid-point of the table.
I was the unbalanced one. Evidently the air is kept ‘thin’ in the large room to protect the fragile paint. I remembered we had passed through an air-lock in order to see it. After the long sleep-less plane flight and numerous espressos, I began to feel dizzy as I gazed up, like I might fall over. The room is large but there are no longer any tables and chairs inside so I had to go out to lie on a bench until eventually, I regained my balanced.
There is a unique balance in today’s first scripture story, it’s the Palm Sunday parade and everything is in pairs.
Two disciples are sent into town,
Sentences and commands are paired. Even the O T quote of Isaiah is paired with one from Zechariah.
There’s even two donkeys! (a donkey & a colt) and it says Jesus’ sat on them! (talk about balance!)
Coats AND branches are laid down, it seems that both the people and the earth are waving in praise.
After a long trek through Galilee and so many misunderstandings, life finally FEELS right, Jesus is welcomed as the ‘One who comes in the name of the Lord’, FINALLY, isn’t it about time?
If we could pan out to see the whole city, we’d see a very Unbalanced scene for on the other end of Jerusalem is a royal parade, with real horses, instruments and marching soldiers. It’s Herod’s parade and he’s coming into town with a (unit) of soldiers. He won’t stand for any disruptions this week and he’s come personally to maintain order while the Jewish pilgrims flock to Jerusalem for Passover week. His idea of balance is a show of force so large than none will dare go against him/ try anything.
Balance is a matter of perception. a state of equilibrium or equipoise; equal distribution of weight, amount, etc.
Humans are balanced because we are bi-peds. We are made with two arms, two legs to balance a single torso, although inside there are two lungs, one for each half. On top we have a single head with two eyes, two ears and even two balanced sides of the brain. Is it any wonder that we consider balance to be EQUAL distribution of weight?
What do you perceive as balanced?
Candlesticks on each side of central cross, central Bible, plate on each side.
Move all plates to one side and Bible to other.
Move candlesticks to one side, flowers to other, Bible, etc.
Objects can be UNBALANCED and yet feel right, like they have somehow achieved a balance even tho they are obviously unequally distributed.
As we move objects around, We discover we each have a different FEEL for balance. Some of us require the visual equality of objects. Others find that equal size and distribution of different objects can obtain a balance when placed – just so.
Feng Shui includes a way of arranging objects to obtain the FEEL of balance that can occur in a visually unequal way.
Feng Shui is an ancient art and science developed over 3,000 years ago in China. It is a complex body of knowledge that reveals how to balance the energies of any given space to assure the health and good fortune for people inhabiting it.
I do not profess to be an expert. Nor do I adopt all the aspects of Taoist belief upon which some of Feng Shui is based. I can’t even explain the process to you. I just know that sometimes things feel better (when I look at them) than others. It is much more of a FEELING than any balance of measurements.
. . .
A woman felt that her life was unbalanced. The city around her was in a heightened state of anxiety. People were taking time off work for religious services and families were pouring into the city from out of town. Workers were off-schedule, shops were posting holiday hours, and nothing could be taken for granted without checking on times and verifying appointments.
Even her personal life was in turmoil. She had heard a teacher during the past week and his words seemed to have planted a seed inside that was growing. It was as if she could see beyond time. Her whole perspective had changed; it felt very out –of balance from normal life. And yet, she was strangely calm. She couldn’t explain it, not even to her best friend and sister.
She had an idea that sounded outrageous to them. They told her not to do it, that she was crazy! But she was becoming more and more certain of herself. Finally, she knew what she had to do. She went home and reached under the top of her sleeping mat and pulled out the folded cloth. She took the bottle of perfume she was saving and wrapped it in a soft towel. She pulled her hair back, washed her face and set off for Simon’s house. She knew the teacher was there. She couldn’t have explained why she was sure she had to do this, not even if anyone stopped her & asked, but she was determined.
. . .
The disciples stood & watched her pour costly ointment over Jesus head & were horrified. This woman had to be ‘unbalanced’. They wanted to stop her, but Jesus wouldn’t let them.
They were angry at the waste of perfume.
They were angry at how the costly expense could have been put to use.
They were justifiably angry because - in a balanced world, many poor people could have been served.
But Jesus was aware of a bigger scene. He could SEE & was part of a deeper balance that the woman only felt, but didn’t comprehend. It was the divine balance of what would be.
It was the balance where the dead (or soon to be) are honored one final time by anointing the body.
It was the balance of an extravagant gift. . .
An extravagant gift.
. . .
It was the beginning of an un-stable plot.
Someone would be so ‘put-out’ of balance that he would take 30 pieces of silver; the price of a slave’s release from jail, – in exchange for the betrayal of a friend.
The dark stories that follow the meal around that long table, so magnificently portrayed by Da Vinci in Milan, are key for the big picture that brings us from Lent to Easter.
We don’t read them today because ‘Palm Sunday’ is about welcoming God’s new equilibrium into the scene of our happy parades.
Our idea of balance could easily set today’s triumphant entry parade on one side of the week and Easter’s joyful celebration on the other and WE could smile and enjoy the well-balanced feeling. The two triumphant days FEEL equal and right to us. . . .
God’s sense of balance is different.
In God’s way (of stability) – equilibrium –
Everything does NOT come out equally. . .
Giving up = equals getting
Being last is better than being first
Handing over one’s life – is the way to receive life
In God’s Fung Shui, the joy of Palm Sunday and the joy of Easter are balanced on the point of the cross.
. . .
The cross is at the heart of Christianity. It is the pivot point where the big picture comes into clear view.
It’s not because we echo the trite saying that, “Jesus died for my sins” – if that was all that the theology we had, there would be No Need for Easter at the other end of the pendulum. The story would simply end on Good Friday.
The cross is at the heart of Christianity because giving up – is key.
Giving up is the great unbalanced act for all humans (to follow) when we follow the example of the Divine seen in Jesus.
He demonstrated self-giving as he kneeled at that long table and washed each and every disciple’s feet.
He told us that;
giving up our lives, giving away our money$,
Giving up our time, giving someone else our effort is all balanced by God’s giving ultimate love to us.
In Next week’s story, God will take the unbalanced gift of Jesus’ life itself, and will make a new beginning from it.
We who are shocked & surprised when we encounter inequality are left gaping in horror at the unfairness of the stories of Holy Week.
We can’t abide anything that doesn’t measure up, play fair, or have an equally shared burden.
Maybe we’ll even be angry because it doesn’t balance with what we know about life and death.
It just isn’t fair. – (It isn’t fair that Jesus has to die.)
Our sense of equilibrium is knocked off and it leaves us uncomfortable and unbalanced, because it leaves us, - those who say we follow Christ’s SELF-giving way - - to explain God’s out-of-balanced giving – to the rest of the world.
And how do we balance THAT with our ‘normal’ lives?