Sunday, April 05, 2009

Gospel for Monday of Holy Week

From: John 12:1-11

Mary Anoints Our Lord at Bethany

[1] Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany where Lazarus was, whom Jesus raised form the dead. [2] There they made Him a supper; Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at table with Him. [3] Mary took a pound of costly ointment of pure nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment. [4] But Judas Iscariot, one of the disciples (he who was to betray Him), said, [5] "Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?" [6] This he said, not that he cared for the poor but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box he used to take what was put into it. [7] Jesus said, "Let her alone, let her keep it for the day of My burial. [8] The poor you have always have with you, but you do not always have Me."

[9] When the great crowd of the Jews learned that He was there, they came, not only on account of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom He raised from the dead. [10] So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death also, [11] because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.


1. Jesus pays another visit to His friends in Bethany. It is very touching to see this friendship, at once divine and human, expressed in the form of frequent contact.

"It's true that I always call our Tabernacle `Bethany'....Become a friend of the Master's friends: Lazarus, Martha, Mary. And then you won't ask me any more why I call our Tabernacle `Bethany'" ([St] J. Escriva, "The Way", 322).

2-3. Apparently, our Lord was anointed on two different occasions - first, at the start of His public ministry, in Galilee, as recounted by St. Luke (7:36-50); and, second, towards the end of His life, in Bethany, reported here by St. John and undoubtedly the same incident described by St. Matthew (26:6-13) and St. Mark (14:3-9). The two anointings are quite distinct: they occur at different times and the details of the accounts differ: the first is a demonstration of repentance followed by pardon; the second, a delicate expression of love, which Jesus further interprets as an anticipation of the anointing of His body for burial (verse 7).

Although these anointings of Jesus had a particular significance, they should be seen in the context of Eastern hospitality.

The pound was a measure of weight equivalent to three hundred grams; a denarius, as we have indicated elsewhere, was a day's wage of an agricultural laborer; therefore, the cost of the flask of perfume would have amounted to a year's wage.

"What a shining proof of magnanimity is this `extravagance' on Mary's part! Judas on the other hand laments this `waste' of so valuable a perfume; in his greed he had been calculating the price: it would have fetched at least `three hundred silver pieces'.

"True detachment leads us to be very generous with God and with our fellowmen. [...] Don't be mean and grudging with people who, without counting the cost, have given of their all, everything they have, for your sake. Just ask yourselves, how much does it cost you--in financial terms as well--to be Christians? Above all, don't forget that `God loves a cheerful giver' (2 Corinthians 9:7)" ([St] J. Escriva, "Friends of God", 126).

4-6. From this passage and from John 13:29 we know that Judas was the person in charge of the money. His petty thefts--they could not have been any more than that, given the meagre resources of Jesus and the Twelve--played their part in disposing him to commit his eventual sin of betraying Jesus; his complaint about the woman's generosity was quite hypocritical. "Frequently the servants of Satan disguise themselves as servants of righteousness (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:14-15). Therefore, (Judas), hid his malice under a cloak of piety" (St. Thomas Aquinas, "Commentary on St. John, ad loc.").

7-8. As well as praising Mary's generous gesture, our Lord announces in an indirect way His forthcoming death, even implying that it will happen so precipitously that there will hardly be time to prepare His body for burial in the normal way (Luke 23:56). Jesus is not saying that almsgiving is not a good thing (He often recommended it: cf. Matthew 25:40); what He is doing here is exposing the hypocrisy of people like Judas who deceitfully profess noble motives in order to avoid giving God the honor He is due.

9-11. The news of the raising of Lazarus has spread rapidly among the people of Judea and those travelling up to Jerusalem for the Passover; many believe in Jesus (John 11:45); others look for Him (John 11:56) perhaps more out of curiosity (John 12:9) than faith. Following Christ demands more of each of us than just superficial, short-lived enthusiasm. We should not forget those "who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; and they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away" (Mark 4:16-17).
Source: "The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries". Biblical text taken from the Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentaries made by members of the Faculty of Theology of the University of Navarre, Spain. Published by Four Courts Press, Kill Lane, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Ireland. Reprinted with permission from Four Courts Press and Scepter Publishers, the U.S. publisher.

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