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 the Midwest before completing a B.A. in Theatre at Northwestern College [IA] and a Masters of Divinity [M.Div.] at Princeton Theological Seminary [NJ]. An ordained minister in the United Church of Christ [UCC], Josh has lived and worked in the Midwest, East Coast, Hawai’i, and Mexico. He is the co-founder and Executive Director of The Welcome Project PA, host of the Bucks-Mont PRIDE Festival, and he is Pastor of Love In Action UCC, an open and affirming congregation featured in a Vox Media episode of Divided States of Women with Liz Plank and in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Josh has 20+ years of nonprofit experience, including leading workshops and training in corporate, medical, and academic settings, focused on diversity & inclusion, grant writing, fund raising, and program management. Josh is a fellow of Interfaith Philadelphia, and designs and coordinates HS and University student groups for interfaith immersion service-learning weeks. Josh also co-facilitates Ally trainings for LGBTQIA+ inclusion and interfaith cooperation. He is a founding member of The Society for Faith & Justice, and a Collaborator for Nurturing Justice, and a member of the Driving PA Forward team via New Sanctuary Movement. He also performs regularly with the dinner theatre company, Without a Cue Productions, and has developed theatre arts curriculum for use in religious and secular settings. Josh also enjoys running, singing, traveling, learning languages, or making strange and funny faces. He lives in Center City Philly.

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