Seygbai Kai is a resident of the Circle of the Beloved, the Minnesota chapter of the Episcopal Service Corps. Four residents live on the North side of Minneapolis, in intentional community that acknowledges and deepens kinship across many lines of difference, while serving full time at AmeriCorps sites that work to close opportunity gaps in Minnesota.
What would you do with $24,000 dollars? Some ideas I have would be to buy every Apple Product produced. If I did that, I would still have $9,880 dollars left over. Or maybe I would pay back my loans or pay for school- Maybe more importantly I would use it to support my family with their expenses.
While reflecting on the passage of Mary and the washing, I read that Mary took perfume that cost 300 Denarii to wash Jesus’ feet. According to some research 300 Denarii is equivalent to 300 days of work. Back in the day, 300 days of work paid about $24,000 dollars. After considering what I would do if I had $24,000 dollars, I began to question Mary’s decisions. Even the disciples questioned her decision by asking Mary, “Why didn’t you sell the perfume and give the proceeds to the poor?” I even mirrored their question out loud to myself: “Why didn’t you do the logical thing, Mary?”
I’ve never been inclined to do rational things; joining AmeriCorps may have been the most irrational decision I’ve made. The premise of AmeriCorps is to live in intentional poverty while serving in the community. Many members make a small stipend that averages about $5.00 an hour. My decision to join AmeriCorps has received some backlash from my friends and family. They’ve asked me, “Why don’t you get a job where you make 10x that and save money?” or “Why don’t you live with your parents and save money?” This makes sense I have a lot of logical friends. My friends do not want to see me struggle intentionally so they just want to understand why I’ve put myself in this situation.
Over and over again I tell them that my decision just felt like the right thing to do. Currently, I am an Adult English Second Language instructor at Sumner Library in North Minneapolis. My time as an educator has been a journey. I teach an average of 20-30 students. These students all have different language levels which has made it challenging for all of my students to be on the same page. My students have taught me so much about Somalian culture and the barriers placed upon English Language Learners. Not only is it difficult to navigate around the city but it is also difficult to communicate. I completely understand. I lived abroad in a foreign country where I did not speak the language. It was frustrating to experience not being understood both figuratively and literally. My students jolt me back into reality and remind me to suspend my own judgment.
When I think of Mary’s own judgments and the judgments that are placed upon her, I believe she knew washing Jesus’ feet was the right thing to do. The only phrase I can think of is the knee-jerk reaction that comes from doing the right thing. I felt Mary experienced this same reaction. Despite having disciples judging her she knew this was right. Her next action was to dry Jesus’s feet with her hair. This reaction was considered “taboo”. Again, Mary did not care because she knew it was the right thing to do. Yes, the rational thing to do would have been to use a towel, but when has the spirit moved in rational and logical ways?
The spirit that filled Mary that day also gave her hope. Jesus fulfilled Mary’s hopes in more ways than she could imagine. She not only had her brother back but she also was able to worship in her own way.
The disciples were also stunned at Jesus’s response to Mary. Jesus said “Leaver her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” Jesus knew Mary would be with him through his final physical days on earth. Mary freely sacrificed this large amount at the feet of Jesus. She knew that the treasures of this earth cannot be taken into heaven. I believe the disciples were stunned to hear that a woman who served the Lord whole heartedly presented him with a gift void of ego. Judas was hoping to pocket this money earned from cashing in the perfume. As almost as a warning, the spirit moved Mary to do what was right which was to give Jesus this perfume and not present her gift to the enemy.
Feeling the spirit move through Mary gave me hope. Minneapolis has also given me hope. My journey here may not have been a logical journey but it has given me delight. I have had the chance to worship Jesus in my own way. For example, this year we began a new tradition of making Jesus a birthday cake on Christmas. WE celebrated an alternative Christmas by making Christmas less about presents and more about giving Jesus a great birthday celebration. I’ve also been curious and hopeful to learn more about my Enneagram type 7 and how to stay in community with other types.
In conclusion, why did Mary not do the rational thing and sell the perfume? I cannot answer that question for Mary but I can tell you why I decided to live in poverty for a year. I believe God has taken care of me thus far, so my service year is the least I can do to thank him. Mary served the lord graciously and reminded me, as a Woman of God, to serve the Lord God with all my heart- to give of my life in order to gain a life filled with hope.