26 March – Monday of Holy Week
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.
“Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages and given to the poor?”
What is the quality of our worship? And against what yardstick are we to measure this? Those are the questions posed to us as we ponder today’s gospel story of Mary and her bottle of spikenard oil. The players in today’s gospel each represent a particular type of believer – Mary, Martha, Judas Iscariot and the Chief Priests and finally, the throng of Jews. Let’s take each one in turn:
Mary – The significance of Mary anointing Jesus with spikenard, using her hair to wipe his feet, was not lost on Jesus. Spikenard oil, in Jesus’ time, was used for consecration and worship at the tabernacle. Costing a year’s wages, the oil was likely Mary’s prized possession. She gave her most precious belongings – her treasure and her hair, her crowning glory – to honor him. Mary’s worship was like “Christ’s fragrance rising up to God, and perceived by those who are saved as well as by those who are lost” (2 Cor 15). Mary represents the believer who through faith, perceives Christ for who he is and understands the significance of the moment. Mary is the kind of believer whose faith is so pure, she inspires us to be faithful as well.
Martha – When we first meet Martha, she is obviously the alpha female of the house (Luke 10:38-41), opinionated and unafraid of confrontation. Then she experiences the life-changing miracle of her brother’s resurrection (John 11:1-44) and is transformed. Today’s gospel reading shows a humbled Martha, serving dinner, at peace with her vocation. Gone is the smart-mouthing; in its place instead is quiet contentment. Martha represents the believer who, through a deeply personal experience of Christ, opens her eyes, sees Christ for who he is, and finds her peace – “Yes, Lord, I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world” (John 11:27).
Judas Iscariot and the Chief Priests – Both of these are really the same kind of believer. They may have started off with good intentions, but they let money and power corrupt their perspective. Judas and the Chief Priests are like those who have subverted Christ’s cause for their own purpose. We see these believers all the time, usually aspiring to positions of higher office in church. We may even possess shades of Judas ourselves, if we have ever served with intentions other than to do God’s work. These believers are like the Pharisees who “appear as religious to others, but are full of hypocrisy and wickedness within” (Mat 23:28). They’re more interested in the things of the world – money, position, politics and power – than in God’s purpose.
The throng of Jews – These are the believers who are searching for any form of authentic worship, whose hearts are open, but whose spirits may not necessarily be ready for the long haul. Jesus described them in the Parable of the Sower (Matt 13:20) as those who accept the Word with joy, but who lack the tenacity to hold on when they are subjected to trials.
Wherever we are in our faith journey, there are shades of each of these believers in all of us. We are neither wholly good, nor wholly bad, not so perfect that we don’t need salvation, not so evil that we’re beyond redemption. The question is, in what general direction have we been moving lately?
(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)
Prayer: We pray that God will open our eyes so we may perceive as Mary and Martha did, the things that are truly significant in our lives.
Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all the examples in Scripture that so vividly depict our human condition, and all that ails us.