Attention = Generosity

“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”

— Simone Weil

John 12:1–8
12 Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3 Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5 “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” 6 (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) 7 Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

This story highlights something that much of society does not seem to value.

Attention. Being attentive. Being present in the moment.

In an age of doom scrolling, a million streaming services, social media bombardment, and social disconnection, paying attention to one another isn’t often a high priority. I’m sure that you’ve noticed that many of us can be “with” people at a cafe, park, or sitting at a table. But we’re looking at our phones. An email here, a text message there. Another headline, tweet, or notification. Pretty soon the other humans with us are not the focus of our attention. Are we really even there? Good question.

So it really, really means something, doesn’t it? When someone really is present with you. When they sit with you in your pain, joy, or melancholy. When they listen. When they pay attention. It means something. We feel seen. We feel human. Attention is generosity.

In this story, Mary is the attentive one. She does what seems crazy to others. She uses an expensive ointment to wash Jesus’ feet. Not only was this a startling act, it was an intimate one. Judas Iscariot, of course, criticized her for such an action. Judas cared more about the money one could get from selling the perfume than he cared about being present in that moment. Jesus’ response: Leave her alone. Let her be.

Friends, I wonder what would happen if we valued attention more than money. I wonder how we would heal if we treasured the present moment as a gift to be recognized and lived. And I wonder just how much we could find greater connection if we decided to be more generous with our attention.

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Josh grew up in Indiana and Iowa before completing a Masters of Divinity [M.Div.] at Princeton Theological Seminary [NJ]. He has worked in a variety of settings, including the Presbyterian Church (USA) and United Church of Christ (UCC) in Philadelphia, Hawai’i, Mexico, and Michigan. Currently, he serves as pastor of Love in Action United Church of Christ, a progressive, Christian, LGBTQIA+ affirming and interfaith community in Hatboro, a suburb of Philadelphia. He also holds a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre/Speech from Northwestern College (IA). Josh has worked with youth and young adult programs for 25 years regionally, nationally, and in Latin America. He is also a trained actor and performs regularly with the dinner theatre company, Without a Cue Productions, LLC. He has developed theatre arts curriculum for use in worship, youth groups, education, and group-building. Josh is also committed to promoting religious pluralism and partnering with people of all faiths and those who identify as atheist or agnostic to build bridges of shared values and cooperation. He is honored to work with the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia as a Fellow and a Consultant. Focus areas include: University alternative spring break and summer programs that incorporate faith encounters and service-learning for students; workplace diversity programs that promote understanding in organizations, corporations, schools, and hospital settings. Josh also enjoys playing basketball, strumming on the guitar, traveling, learning language, or making strange and funny faces. He lives in Center City Philadelphia and thinks vegan cheesesteaks are amazingly good.

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