Monday, March 21, 2016

the anointing of Jesus: a reflection for Monday in Holy Week

May my words be in the name of the Father, & of the Son, & of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

We have an interesting contrast between Mary and Judas in our reading this evening. Mary, while Jesus is reclining at table with friends, places herself publicly at his feet; her sister Martha is, as usual, the one looking after the guests. Then she anoints his feet using pure nard, an expensive perfume. Finally, she wipes his feet with her hair.

Does Judas approve this extravagant gesture? He does not. He complains, loudly, that this is a waste; that the perfume could have been sold for 300 denarii and the money given to the poor.

And we might easily approve Judas' words of condemnation, be led to think 'well yes, what is this woman doing? acting in a very sensual way toward our Lord, pouring a very costly perfume-oil over his feet, when she would probably have been better occupied helping her sister to look after people?' But there are things that get in the way of our forming such an opinion.

First there are the additional words of the evangelist. St John tells us that Judas cares not at all for the poor; this is simply a pretext. He was the keeper of the common purse for Jesus and his Apostles; and he was not a trustworthy man when it came to carrying out his duties. Instead, he would steal from the purse and use the money for his own purposes. His angry words directed at Mary are motivated by greed. He would have liked to see those 300 little silver denarii go into the common purse so he can have them there for him to steal and spend. And knowing what he will do later for a mere 30 pieces of silver, it is not hard to understand his frustration at seeing 300 slip from his grasp.

However, the fact that Judas is lying about why he grumbles does not mean that he is necessarily wrong to say the money would have been better spent on the poor. But Jesus also weighs in against him. 'Leave her alone,' St John reports him as saying; other evangelists tell us that Jesus says she has done a beautiful thing for him. What she does, Christ tells us, she does to prepare his body for burial – a prophetic action, then, as certainly non of the apostles have yet grasped that Jesus has journeyed to Jerusalem to suffer and die.

What do we learn from comparing these two, the man and the woman, the apostle and she who wipes men's feet with her hair - the crowning glory of woman, as St Paul puts it? Judas it seems is the person who lives our his faith with fine words – but does not back them up with actions in his life. Religion, for him, exists to benefit his life; and when it does not he will discard it – and at a profit if he can. Mary, on the other hand, shows her love for Christ in her actions. We meet her three times only in the gospels: once when she chooses the better part by sitting at the feet of Jesus to hear him teach; again at the grave of Lazarus her brother; and here where she anoints the feet of the Word made flesh. On two of these occasions, she says not a word – the first and the last mentioned. And when we do hear her voice at her brother's grave it is to hear her express her faith in Christ. But the silence of her actions are eloquent: prayerful and rapt attention to the words of our Lord; and worshipful adoration of him, showing an extravagant love for him, a love that knows no limits, even to the extent of anointing him with perfume-oil that literally costs a fortune.


Little wonder then that elsewhere in the Gospels Jesus says where his Good News is told this story will be recounted in memory of her. Little wonder also I think that we should see here as as an example for us all to follow in this Holy Week and always – an example of a love for God that knows no bounds, that tries to mirror in its poor human way the extravagant love that God showed for us his children by sending his only Son to suffer and die for us. Her's is the example that leads to eternal life; while that of Judas can lead only away from it. So I end with the prayer that you will be ever more like Mary in the way you show your love for God; and I ask that you pray the same for me. Amen. 

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