Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching.
Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.
The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom should I fear?
The Lord is my life's refuge;
of whom should I be afraid? (R./)
When evildoers come at me
to devour my flesh,
My foes and my enemies
themselves stumble and fall. (R./)
Though an army encamp against me,
my heart will not fear;
Though war be waged upon me,
even then will I trust. (R./)
I believe that I shall see the bounty of the Lord
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord with courage;
be stouthearted, and wait for the Lord. (R./)
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 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. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, "Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?" (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.) Jesus said, "Leave 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."
When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.
We are within Holy Week, a time to prayerfully reflect on the final journey of Jesus to his Passion. Due to the need for physical distancing during the pandemic, we won’t be able to meet in church, but let’s remain aware of each other, and pray for each other.
Most of the people Jesus met in his final days were against him. Yet in today’s gospel story, a week before he was crucified, he was honoured in a most personal and inspired way. One evening, while dining with his friends in Bethany, his hostess, Mary, went to great expense to show her devotion to him. In spite of the sarcastic words of Judas, Mary anointed the feet of Jesus with expensive perfume and dried them with her hair. A few days later, during the Last Supper, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples.
Mary of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus, was inspired to anticipate that servant-spirit of Jesus himself. Her extravagant gesture was an inspired act that mirrors how Jesus gives himself to all of us. Despite the cost of the ointment, Jesus defends her generous act as preparing him for his death and burial. He welcomed the anointing as a loving gesture that mirrors his love for us, the kind of honour we ought to show to each other. Sometimes we are blessed to meet people like Mary who affirm and encourage us when we most need it. Hopefully, we too can be for others what she was for Jesus, a generous friend in an often surly world.
This anointing is so iconic that we should make more of it in our liturgy. She honoured and loved him as a man of God, devoted to love and fairness, who had unique empathy for all, including herself. She dared to show her love by anointing him with perfumed oil, despite the seeming extravagance. Jesus accepted this anointing as preparing for his burial. A little earlier, the high priest Caiaphas reckoned that “One man must die for the sake of the nation,” and Jesus himself said how the seed must die, in order to bear fruit (Jn 12:24). In veiled language he predicted being “Lifted Up” in order to draw all people to himself (12:32). Therefore the anointing was a prophecy in action, preparing for the Lord’s sacrificial death.
How strange that this iconic story is so little known. Some are adamant that whatever quasi-ministry may be implied in this anointing in Bethany, or in Mary Magdalene’s Easter announcement, is no basis for ordaining women as priests. Perhaps that’s why our Lord’s instruction that “What she has done shall be told, in memory of her” (Mt 26:13) is widely ignored. Gospel texts such as these invite us to reconsider the kind of ministry Jesus intended for his community. It has nothing to do with status and power, and is all about actual, loving service.