The Anointing at Bethany


[Homily:  Holy Monday, April 15, 2019]

In our Gospel today, Mary anoints Jesus.

Her anointing of Jesus comes just after the seventh sign in John’s Gospel:  Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead.   You recall, when news came of Lazarus’ sickness, Jesus did not go immediately to the side of his friend.  “This sickness is not unto death, “ Jesus said, “but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (Jn 11:4).  When he finally went after two days, Lazarus had already died.  Martha, grieving Lazarus death, met him and said, “Lord if you had only come earlier, my brother would not have died.” (Jn 11:21).  But Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again…  I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he may die, he shall live”  (Jn 11:25).   Martha thought he was talking about the general resurrection from the dead, but she had misunderstood.   Very dramatically, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, calling him forth from the tomb.  It was a sign which brought many of those who witnessed it to belief.

But it was also the sign that was intensely provocative. St. John relates that in its wake the scribes and Pharisees gathered in council and asked, “ What shall we do?  This man works many signs.  If we let him alone, everyone will believe in him…” (Jn 11:48).  At the end of their deliberation, St. John recounts, “…from that day on, they plotted to put him to death.”

Mary who had peered into Jesus’ heart and understood him profoundly, knew that his death was near.  The thought of that death revolted her from within; like Peter, she may have wanted to spare Jesus this painful death.  But she understood Jesus had to undergo this.  He was the Good Shepherd come to “bring life, life to the full” (Jn 10:10), who would lay down his life for his sheep (Jn 10:15).  He was the Suffering Servant referred to in the first reading who suffers silently,  “Not crying out, not shouting, not making his voice heard in the street” (Is 42:2) until he accomplishes his mission “to bring justice to the nations” (Is 42:1)) and “to be a light to the Gentiles” (Is. 49:6).  So, believing him and believing in him, she takes a pound [not just a few drops] of very precious oil and anoints his feet, filling the room with the fragrance of the oil, then wiped his feet with her hair.  It is an act that astonishes and moves those who were present.  It is an act of humility.  But also an act of inner union with what Jesus had to undergo.  It was as if she were saying, “Alright, if you must undergo this death, then allow me to prepare you for death.  Despite everything in me that protests against it, I accept you must do this.   I accept by anointing your feet with oil.”  It was an act of faith in Jesus, and all he had to undergo.  But it was also indisputably an act of love.

Her response to Jesus is the opposite of Judas’ response.  His cynicism betrays his utter lack of insight into Jesus’ heart. “Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” (Jn 11:5 ).  He rejects all the gestures in love Mary is making before Jesus.   As Mary loved in faith, he hated in rejection.  For but thirty pieces of silver, he betrayed Jesus.

Yesterday, Palm Sunday, we heard the cries, “Hosannah to the Son of David, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Lk 19:30); we also heard, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” (Lk 23:21).  Today we encounter the faith and love of Mary, but also the hatred of Judas.

We are invited to prayer.  We would like to be like Mary.  But precious oil is expensive.  We would hate to be like Judas.  But we talk much about the poor and reject the light of Jesus.

St. John says, “He came to his own and his own received him not.  But to as many as received him, he gave the right to become children of God” (Jn 1:11-12)

About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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