15Apr Monday in Holy Week

15 April 2019.

1st Reading: Isaiah 42:1-7

My servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, the One in whom my soul delights

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.

Responsorial: Psalm 27

Response: The Lord is my light and my salvation

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./)

The Lord is my light and my salvation. (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./)

Gospel: John 12:1-11

Mary’s gesture of love, pouring ointment on Jesus’ feet

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.

BIBLE

In memory of her

The impulsive, worshipful gesture done for Jesus by his friend Miriam or Mary of Bethany (as distinct from Mary Magdalene), is so inspirational that one wonders why our Church has not given it more prominence in our liturgy. This woman, Miriam, may not yet have understood the full stature of Jesus, as “a covenant to the people, a light to the nations” (1st Reading), or indeed as the world’s only Saviour, but she knew and loved him as genuine a man of God, a fearless preacher of truth, love and fairness, and an extraordinary, compassionate healer of people in need. For this reason, she honoured and loved him and dared to show her love by that extravagant gesture of anointing him with perfumed oil, to which Judas so coldly objected. Rising to her defence, Jesus interprets her action as a preliminary anointing for his burial. “She bought it for the day of my burial.” A little earlier, the Jewish high priest Caiaphas has declared that “One man must die for the nation,” and a few verses later Jesus will speak of the need for the seed to die, in order to bear much fruit (Jn 12:24), and of his imminent “Lifting Up” so that he can draw all people to himself (12:32). Mary’s impulsive act of loving generosity is thus given the status of a prophecy, preparing for his sacrificial death.

It seems a pity that this iconic story never received sacramental stature in the Church. Whatever kind of ministry is expressed by this act of anointing by Mary of Bethany, or by Mary Magdalene’s later mission of announcing that Jesus was risen, has not sufficed as a basis for ordaining women. Indeed, we also tend to ignore the solemn and clear directive, (in the parallel passage about Jesus being anointed by an unnamed woman in Bethany), that “Wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done shall be told, in memory of her” (Mt 26:13). Texts such as these invitel us to reconsider what Jesus meant as ministry within his community, which had nothing to do with status and with power, and all to do with actual loving service.


An iconic gesture

Most of the people who saw Jesus on that final week of his life were hostile to him. But six days before the feast of Passover during which Jesus was crucified, he experienced a very great kindness. Not only is he the guest at the table of a family that he loves, one member of that family, Mary, went to great expense to render him a very thoughtful service. She anointed his feet with very expensive perfume and dried them with her hair. A little later in the same gospel, Jesus will wash the feet of his followers.

Mary, the sister of Lazarus, anticipated that servant-gesture of Jesus himself. She offered him a generous, loving service exactly like what Jesus did for his disciples, and for all of us. Jesus interprets her generous act as preparing him for his death and burial. At the beginning of the last Week of his life, he welcomed this act of kindness from Mary of Bethany. What that woman did for him we are called to do for each other. On our own life journey, we may meet people who make things difficult for us. We will also experience people like Mary who support us on our journey, and, hopefully, we can do for others what Mary did for Jesus, a kind and generous gesture in an often hostile world.


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