Today, holy Monday, we see Jesus in the house of his friends, Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. These three siblings from the town of Bethany on the outskirts of Jerusalem gave a dinner party for Jesus. This is after he made the triumphant entrance into the city which we celebrated yesterday on Palm Sunday. No doubt one of the causes for this party was thanksgiving for the raising of Lazarus from death into life. As we read in the gospel of St. John, the whole house was filled with the fragrance of aromatic nard. In an expression of love that has no bounds, Mary takes a whole liter of a highly expensive essential oil, worth 300 day’s wages, and pours it upon Jesus, anointing his feet with it and drying them with her hair. This is a sign of her faith in Christ, the Anointed One of Israel – – the Messiah King. Like the Old Testament kings of old, Jesus was anointed, not with chrism oil, but with the Holy Spirit at the moment of his baptism at the river Jordan. Mary’s act is a recognition of Jesus’ identity. Moreover, it is an act of love that recognizes that Jesus is not only the Christ but that he is God made visible. God having feet, Mary drops to the floor to anoint them with the best perfume she has.
We cannot spare any expense when it comes to Jesus Christ. Mary was reprimanded for “wasting” her reserve of perfumed oil – – it could have been sold and given to the poor, protests Judas. But he was a thief and always put a price on everything – – even Jesus, whom he sold for 30 pieces of silver without hesitation. The Church sometimes is criticized for spending expenses on beautiful churches and ornate vessels. But how can we not adorn our churches when God comes to dwell within them? We profess and believe that the bread and wine in the hands of the priest are transformed into the very body and blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, containing his very soul and divinity. What we give to God by way of beauty makes evident our faith – – marble, gold, windows, art, architecture, music all cry out, “We believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth…” Love for God is manifested by lavishing churches with beauty. And love for God is inextricably connected to love of neighbor – – especially love for the poor. Genuine love for God must have outward expression – – by beauty, and by charity which is informed, in truth, by beauty.
In a mysterious and mystical manner, Jesus identifies himself with the poor. “Whatever you do the least of these, you do unto me.” If this is true, then isn’t the converse true as well? Whatever you do to Jesus, you do to the least – – the poor and forgotten? Whatever is done for the head is done for the body and whatever is done to for the body is done for the head. The point is that Jesus wants our love – – to him directly, and to him “indirectly” through our neighbor – – and we cannot hold back. Mary of Bethany did not on to her prized possession, she gave her entire liter of precious oil, not sparing any of it, to Jesus who deserves every bit of our love. This action of Mary anticipates the burial of Jesus. In his passion and death, Jesus loved us to the end. He gave himself to us entirely, to the last drop of his blood. “He loved me and gave himself for me,” observes St. Paul. This week we will witness the depths of his love for each one of us in the events of his passion, death, and resurrection. How can we not desire to return this love? How can we not do everything possible to show our love for Jesus who first loved us, and loved us while we were sinners, undeserving?
The fragrance filled the house. In baptism, we become temples, anointed with the sweet anointing of the Holy Spirit. This week, on holy Thursday, the sacred chrism that is used to anoint people is blessed. When it is poured upon a person, the fragrance of Christ fills the soul. The rich aroma cannot be hidden when one lives out one’s identity in Christ – – it will be experienced by everyone who comes in contact with that person. To be a Christian is a gift – – bestowed at the culmination of this week – – that makes Christ present in us, in order for us to give off his fragrance until the whole world smells like the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus.