April 6, 2020
First Reading: Isaiah 42:1-7
Responsorial: Psalm 27:1,2,3,13-14
Gospel: John 12:1-11
Today’s Gospel is John 12:1-11. The setting is six days before the Passover. It is the calm before the storm. A dinner is held in Bethany, no doubt to thank the Lord for raising Lazarus from the dead. Reclining with him at table is Lazarus while his sister Martha serves the meal and his sister Mary anoints his feet and dries them with her hair. A crowd gathers to see both Jesus and Lazarus. Many are coming to believe in Jesus because of the miracle he has worked. Meanwhile, the chief priests are out to get Jesus and to kill Lazarus, too. Lazarus is a walking-talking billboard that Jesus has such divine power.
Given the insincere question of Judas, the weight of interpretation for this reading is usually placed upon the costly value of the aromatic nard: “Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages and given to the poor?” A literary aside already tells the reader that Judas will betray Jesus and that as the holder of their common purse, he was a thief. Jesus immediately comes to Mary’s defense: “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.” Between the lines Jesus is measuring out the value of her humility and sacrifice against Judas’ pride and selfish desires feigning charity.
I would prefer to emphasize the status of the women. Theirs is an utter humility, harkening to when our Lord at table would wash the feet of his apostles as a sign of their service. Lazarus and his temporary restoration to life would point to Christ’s resurrection where he would never suffer or die again. But, notice that Lazarus is most often peripheral to the witness of these women. Previously Mary takes the posture of a disciple sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to his words. Then too Martha is engaged in the things of hospitality. When she complains, Jesus says that she worries about too much and that Mary has chosen the better portion and would not be deprived of it. Here we find the women similarly engaged, although Mary has moved from listening to honoring or even worshipping Christ. Indeed, the word “Christ” means the anointed one. Kings are anointed, as are those who have died. The oil she uses to anoint Jesus may have been taken from the same source that had previously anointed the body of Lazarus.
Recall the role of the two sisters when Lazarus dies. Martha runs out to Jesus and literally makes an intercessory prayer for her dead brother. Jesus is affirmed as the Messiah and Lord. Mary will also meet him at the tomb. The power of faith is realized when Jesus calls for Lazarus to arise from the tomb and a man four day dead emerges.
The details here are important. After Mary anoints the feet of Jesus, she dries them with her hair and “the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.” There is a lesson in this. His fragrance is now hers. If we honor the Lord then he will honor us. This is a message crucial for us, especially when we are separated from the Mass and our churches. The family is the “little church” and we are called to invite the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary into our homes. Allow Christ and the fragrance of holiness to imbue us and our families. Honor God and take to heart the witness of Lazarus’ sisters to know, to serve and to adore or love the Lord. Stay safe. Keep the faith.