Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves. Psalm 126:6
whose feet were caressed
with perfume and a woman’s hair,
you humbly took a basin and towel
and washed the feet of your friends:
wash us also in your tenderness,
that, embracing your service freely,
we may accept no other bondage
in your name.
- Isaiah 43:16-21
- Psalm 126
- Philippians 3:3-14
- John 12:1-8
- Isaiah 50:4-9a
- Psalm 31:9-18
- Philippians 2:5-11
- Luke 23:1-49
A Thought to Ponder
Lent 5 – John 12:1-8
Mary took a pound of costly perfume made from pure nard, anointing Jesus’s feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
The Gospel reading for the Fifth Sunday of Lent in Year C in the common lectionary is the Fourth Gospel’s account of Mary anointing Jesus’ feet with perfume. This incident takes place six days after Jesus’ raising of Mary’s brother Lazarus from the dead, just before Jesus’ Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem. As the evangelist notes in the verses immediately preceding today’s Gospel, Lazarus’ coming back from the dead has all of Jerusalem buzzing – and not all of it is good.
Jesus comes to Bethany, to the home of his good friends, Lazarus, Mary, and the busy-with-hospitality Martha. Mary welcomes Jesus by anointing his feet – not washing them with water, the usual courtesy – but with nard, a very expensive fragrance imported from Northern India. This precious spice must have cost Mary everything she had. Her extravagant act rocked her sister’s dinner party – but how can you adequately thank someone who gave you back your brother?
Judas, the keeper of the company’s purse, objects at this wasteful extravagance (the Fourth Gospel’s description of Judas here is the most devastating picture we have of Judas in the Gospels: he is described as a thief, a manipulator, a betrayer). While Judas’ protests sound reasonable, he’s not fooling anyone. Jesus deflects Judas’ objections. Mary’s act of kindness is exalted by Jesus as a prelude to the wonders that are to come.
Mary’s act in today’s Gospel is not a matter of extravagance and waste but one of gratitude and love. Her gift comes not from the extra she could spare but from her own need, her own poverty. She expresses with a litre of ointment a love she feels in the depths of her soul, a love that is beyond any words she knows to adequately express it.
In today’s Gospel, while Judas and the other guests deride Mary for her ostentatious display, Jesus graciously accepts her act of loving hospitality. In doing so, Jesus transforms her humiliation into joy, her ridiculous display into a prayerful offering. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus lifts up and calls forth the good from everyone he meets — from the most despised tax collector to a little boy’s offering of his lunch. As Jesus transforms the lives of these “real” people, so we are called to do the same: to accept one another, to love one another as God has accepted us and lifted us up and loved us.
Broken as an act of welcome to her beloved friend, later to be broken as an act of courageous compassion to anoint the body of the crucified Jesus, Mary’s small jar of spices is an example to all of us of the “fragrance” of joy and peace, of comfort and care with which we can fill our own “houses” when we dare to “waste” our own time and energy to “break” our own “vessels” of selflessness in the spirit of God’s Risen One.
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