10 April 2017
Here is my servant whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom my soul delights.
I have endowed him with my spirit
that he may bring true justice to the nations.
He does not cry out or shout aloud,
or make his voice heard in the streets.
He does not break the crushed reed,
nor quench the wavering flame.
Faithfully he brings true justice;
he will neither waver, nor be crushed
until true justice is established on earth,
for the islands are awaiting his law.
Thus says God, the Lord,
he who created the heavens and spread them out,
who gave shape to the earth and what comes from it,
who gave breath to its people
and life to the creatures that move in it:
‘I, the Lord, have called you to serve the cause of right;
I have taken you by the hand and formed you;
I have appointed you as covenant of the people and light of the nations,
‘to open the eyes of the blind,
to free captives from prison,
and those who live in darkness from the dungeon.’
Six days before the Passover, Jesus went to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom he had raised from the dead. They gave a dinner for him there; Martha waited on them and Lazarus was among those at table. Mary brought in a pound of very costly ointment, pure nard, and with it anointed the feet of Jesus, wiping them with her hair; the house was full of the scent of the ointment.
Then Judas Iscariot – one of his disciples, the man who was to betray him – said, ‘Why wasn’t this ointment 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 was in charge of the common fund and used to help himself to the contributions. So Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone; she had to keep this scent for the day of my burial. You have the poor with you always, you will not always have me.’
Meanwhile a large number of Jews heard that he was there and came not only on account of Jesus but also to see Lazarus whom he had raised from the dead. Then the chief priests decided to kill Lazarus as well, since it was on his account that many of the Jews were leaving them and believing in Jesus.
“You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
Being Catholic, I am often asked some rather uncomfortable questions about the alleged opulence of our churches (adorned as they are with gold ornaments and ornate sculptures). Indeed, it is almost logical to wonder — wouldn’t it be better to sell all this gold and art pieces, and give the money to the poor? On a recent trip to Rome, the same thought crossed my mind, as I was praying in the beautiful and ornate Church of the Gesu. In catechism, we are often taught that gold is used because we want to give our best to God.
But again, this answer may not always be theologically appealing. After all, doesn’t feeding the poor constitute giving our best to God? No, the answer to this niggling doubt lies not in the physical realm. Rather, it has something to do with our desire to detach ourselves from material objects and desire. In using gold to adorn our churches, we have not only chosen to give our best and most precious (material) possession to God, but we show that we treat such possessions with a healthy sense of detachment.
Indeed, it is a fundamental precept of Ignatian spirtuality that we should hold our possessions lightly and use them in service of God, for nothing we own (or indeed, nothing we do) would mean anything if they are not used in the service of God. As St Ignatus puts it: “The human person is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by doing so, to save his or her soul. All other things on the face of the earth are created for human beings in order to help them pursue the end for which they are created” (The First Principle and Foundation, St Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises).
In washing our Lord’s feet with perfumed oil, Mary is using what is materially precious to serve a greater and more spiritual purpose — worship of our Lord. In contrast, Judas cannot see beyond the material value of the oil, and hence is unable to serve the Lord with all his heart and soul. Like Mary, we too should make use of all our possessions and talents in the praise and service of our Lord. In doing so, we are, as St Ignatius teaches us, simply doing the purpose that God has designed and made us for — to praise, reverence (or love), and serve Him.
This is even more crucial at the beginning of this Holy Week, as we accompany Jesus towards His Passion. For without our Lord’s sacrificial love for us, our talents and possessions will be of little use, for none of these could ever save our souls.
(Today’s Oxygen by Jacob Woo)
Prayer: Lord, grant us the wisdom to look beyond the veil of our material world, so that we can see your spiritual presence in all its splendour, and in doing so, hope to praise, reverence and serve You in all the days of our lives.
Thanksgiving: We are thankful for all the gifts, little and big, that the Lord has showered upon us, and for the chance to use these gifts in service of Him.