From the Word of the Day
Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages?” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.
“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.” (John 12: 3-5, 7)
The account of the anointing of Jesus at Bethany is one of the most surprising and delicate of the Gospel. It takes place in the last week of the Lord’s earthly life and is interpreted by Jesus Himself as anticipation of His imminent death. It is like a ‘last supper’ with His intimate friends at Bethany. It is precisely Mary who performs this unique, unrepeatable, and prophetic action. She is the woman who loves silence and to listen. This is why we can be sure that her deed is not done for show and it also tells us of the solemnity and importance of this moment.
The way it is told allows the reader to assimilate the scene in all its details: she took…she poured…she wiped…the house was filled with the fragrance. The act has no need of words. The gesture speaks eloquently by itself. It is Mary who pours herself out in the ointment, handing herself over to the Lord. It is a deep confession of faith and love for the Lord. Only a heart that is loving, inspired, free, and feminine could reach to such a gratuitous and publically inconvenient action.
The protagonist of this scene is the nard, a very precious and genuine perfumed oil. Judas is correct in guessing its worth to be about 300 denari, certainly an enormous amount of money! However, it is not the monetary worth that counts here but the priceless value of LOVE! Mary acts for all the disciples; she represents all those who loved Jesus and all those who would love Him throughout the centuries without seeing Him. She performed this gesture for us as well. In her, Jesus finally finds what He has always ardently desired: to be loved by those He loves. Thus, Mary anticipates what Jesus will do six days later when the vase of His body will be broken and He will pour out His Life as a priceless perfume for the world’s salvation! Now, the Church is represented by Mary, the spouse who responds to the love of the Spouse. With Mary of Bethany, LOVE is finally loved and lives.
In my pause for silent contemplation, I will remain in this touching scene of intense love and thank Mary for doing what I would like to do for Jesus, pour out my life for Him.
The Voice of V. Mannucci, Contemporary Exegete
In the life of faith, there is an inevitable and loving waste, an exaltation in pure nothingness: women and men who ‘waste’ themselves by consecrating themselves to God; time lost in prayer. Adoration is a waste. What would the Church be if the purse of Iscariot were full for the poor and the house of Bethany empty of perfume?