I’ve always hated Mondays, but for Monday of Holy Week, I’ll make an exception. Our Gospel reading remains the same every year, and it’s a Gospel I never tire of reading.
Six days before Passover Jesus came to Bethany,Jn 12:1-81
where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.
They gave a dinner for him there, and Martha served,
while Lazarus was one of those reclining at table with him.
Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil
made from genuine aromatic nard
and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair;
the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.
Then Judas the Iscariot, one of his disciples,
and the one who would betray him, said,
“Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages
and given to the poor?”
He said this not because he cared about the poor
but because he was a thief and held the money bag
and used to steal the contributions.
So Jesus said, “Leave her alone.
Let her keep this for the day of my burial.
You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
I love the familiarity with which the reader is welcomed at the opening of this chapter. John reminds us to sit at table with him, an eyewitness. He explains that we know these characters already. Lazarus is the dear friend of the Savior, the man once dead now throwing a party. Martha is busy serving, but now with a renewed understanding of the service for which the Master asks. And Mary? Mary is driving people up the wall as always.
She’s not just sitting at the feet of Jesus anymore. She’s anointing his feet. Her receptivity to His words and life have caused her soul to overflow to the point of action, regardless of judgment from onlookers. And her action is one of total self-gift.
We should stop in our tracks when we hear Judas criticize the lost three hundred days’ wages. That’s almost a year’s worth of work. Why on earth would someone have such expensive perfume? This isn’t Pink Chiffon from Bath and Body Works in an inflated market. No, this oil is Mary’s dowry.
This is her entire livelihood, the thing she needs for marriage, to be cared for in a world where women are widely considered property. This perfume holds the security for her future. Now it runs over a man’s dirty feet, pouring into the cracks of the floor, enveloping an ordinary house on an ordinary Monday. It trickles away until none is left in the jar.
Perhaps we too find ourselves scoffing with the traitor, “What a waste.”
There are so many other ways Mary could have honored Jesus. There are ways that are normal, conventional. Ways that do not require risk and the throwing away of one’s entire livelihood. Mary is beautiful. She has an entire life ahead of her, one with a husband and children. She can dwell in comfort and find a way to profoundly honor the Lord without raised eyebrows and irritated gossip.
Surely Jesus is not asking for her dowry. Surely Jesus does not demand such prodigality and foolhardiness.
Maybe He doesn’t. Maybe He would have been equally pleased with her simply remaining at His feet, or with a simpler offering. But Mary is not anointing the Master’s feet because He has demanded it of her with a threat of punishment. She pours out her life because she can’t help herself. Mary has sat at Jesus’ feet for long enough to know every inflection of His voice and to be captivated by its melody. She has gazed into His face with such a singlehearted longing that she knows every crinkle in His smile and every sorrow in His eye. She has felt the warmth of His presence and has known that there is nowhere else she would rather be than here with Him. This ordinary woman has discerned that the Prime Mover of the Universe has come to her own home, a home that stands as a mere speck of dust in the universe. It seems like such a waste that God would spend His time with Her. But love is never a waste. Love is the ultimate end that all actions pine for, because God Himself is Love.
Here in this Gospel, we stand on Holy ground in the presence of our Incarnate God who dines with His own creatures and in the presence of a woman who gives all and so gains the ultimate prize. Here we stand convicted of the fact that we are the ones who have been wasting our lives on the opinions of others and in our selfish self-seeking and gluttony for control and autonomy. Here we are invited to begin again, to sit at the feet of the Master, to hear His gentle voice, and to be so overcome by love that we hold nothing back, but offer our entire selves and even our carefully planned futures to the God who loves us.
In a matter of days, we will see that the feet we anointed with so great a sacrifice are lifeless and bored through by a giant nail. And we will realize that we have been deluded to believe that anything we give is wasteful compared to His offering to us.
1 – Full Gospel for today is John 12:1-11