Monday of Holy Week (A)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Joseph Church, Ponchatoula
Yesterday—Palm Sunday—began for us a week-long remembrance of a series of outrageous events that precede Jesus to his death on the cross. Entering Jerusalem on a donkey and hailed as a king by the crowds, Jesus goes on to visit Lazarus, Mary, and Martha in preparation for the Jewish feast of Passover. Today's outrageous events in the family's home foreshadow Good Friday's execution and reveal the hearts of two of Jesus' disciples: the devoted heart of Mary and the traitorous heart of Judas. Defying religious law, social convention, and good fiscal sense, Mary uses a pint of expensive perfume oil to anoint Jesus' feet. She compounds this outrageous act with another: she uncovers her hair and uses it to dry the oil from his feet. Mary's devotion shocks Judas who protests the anointing, arguing that the oil should be sold and the proceeds given to the poor. Since he was stealing from the disciples' treasury, his real concern, of course, is for his own pockets not the poor. Judas' traitorous heart is a sharp contrast for Mary's devoted heart, and we learn from the contrast the ultimate worth of extravagant love when weighed against the pretenses of faked charity. With his indignant outburst, Judas pretends to care about the poor. But it is Mary who exemplifies the proper attitude of a beloved disciple. While she points toward Jesus' death and burial by anointing him, Judas actually brings about his death by betraying him. Our Holy Week question is: will you be a Mary or a Judas the week before Easter?
By almost every measure that we hold dear, Mary's anointing of Jesus' feet is outrageously wasteful, an over-the-top act of devotion that would likely set even the most extravagant among us to wonder about her sanity. That jar of oil was worth a year's wages! And she just dumps it on Jesus' feet! We have wonder if Lazarus and Martha tried to stop her, or did they just look on in horror along with Judas? Jesus doesn't object. When Judas sputters his outrage, Jesus says, “Leave her alone. Let her keep this for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” What is it that Mary is supposed to keep for Jesus' burial? Maybe there's a bit of the oil left, or maybe he's referring to Mary's devoted heart, her extravagant love. There will always “the poor” among them for them to love and serve, but he will be with them for only a few more days. It is Mary's deeply rooted charity that will survive his death and that charity will serve the poor far longer than Judas' coin.
Our practical natures might be tempted to side with Judas on the question of whether or not to sell the oil and give the proceeds to the poor. Even though he's stealing from the treasury, surely Judas is right to object to the waste of the oil. Even if he steals half the money from the sell, a lot of poor folks can be fed from half a year's wages. Surely that's a better use of the oil, a more efficient way of being charitable. Judas' motives for wanting to sell the oil should not be allowed to taint the final goodness of the righteous goal of feeding the hungry. And if this were a story about the most efficient means of handling a common purse, then Judas would be right. Unfortunately for Judas, this is a story about Jesus' impending death and who marks his passing with the proper devotion and respect. Mary's love leads her to the cross with Jesus. Judas' greed leads him to betrayal. Mary's love binds her to a life of discipleship. Judas' guilt hangs him with a rope and ends his life in suicide. Mary lives on as an example of servant-devotion; Judas died as an example of what happens when we allow selfish expediency to rule our hearts.
This week we remember the outrageous events leading up to Jesus' execution. We can follow Mary's example or Judas' example. Will you love exuberantly, or you will pretend to love and betray your Christ?
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