Today’s Gospel reading is the only one during all of Holy Week that doesn’t actually describe events taking place during the Triduum. From Tuesday on, we’ll already begin to hear about the Last Supper, and there we’ll remain until the evening of Holy Thursday. But not today, not quite yet. Today’s Gospel is a sort of preparation, a breath before the plunge into the drama of the Passion.
The story is a familiar one. Jesus is staying at the home of his friends, Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. He is sitting at the table, when Mary comes with a full jar of expensive perfumed oil and pours it over His feet, drying them with her hair. Judas decries it as a waste of 300 days’ worth of wages, when it could have been given to the poor.
On the one hand, you have Mary’s “foolishly” generous spirit. On the other, you have the practical words of Judas, words suggesting a sensible strategy of financially making a broader impact upon a greater number of needy people, rather than “wasting it” upon one self-sufficient Person.
And then, you have the man in question Himself – Jesus.
Nothing needs to be said here about His obvious concern for the poor, the forgotten, the sick. But His response is not to side with the words of sensible morality. Instead, He shocks the rest by defending Mary’s action as He states: “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” (Jn 12:8)
And all of our modern wisdom is silenced.
That sensible moral imperative of feeding the most mouths, of clothing and housing the greatest number of homeless possible, takes a step back and shudders. It realizes what grave words it has spoken with Caiaphas: “You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” (Jn 11:50)
It is the folly of much of our “humanitarian” wisdom that, missing the trees for the forest, we have forgotten the value, the dignity, of the one human person. And even on a smaller scale, it is far too easy to get caught up in that cycle of doing, planning, donating, promoting this cause or that, and forgetting to be simply be present to our neighbour. But how much more so should we come before God and be present to Him! How much greater a folly it is to forget the dignity, the worth, of God Himself come to dwell among us – and yet, in our busyness, how easy it is to forget it all the same.
Do you believe that He is worth more than three hundred days’ wages?
Do you freely give the finest things to Him? Or do you count the pennies, the seconds, given?
Do you trust in His promise, “[S]trive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Mt 6:33) ?
Yes, the physical well-being of our neighbours is important. Yes, Jesus Himself calls us to take care of those around us, and especially of the poor! But without Him, without His love for us and without that saving relationship with Him, everything else is as straw.
We were dead without Him, and are made alive in Him.
This is the story of the Gospel. This is what we relive over Holy Week and especially during Holy Triduum. As we continue through Holy Week, may this truth settle in our souls… and open our eyes to the life He has won for us.