Monday in Holy Week – Gospel


Commentary on John 12:1-11

Today’s Gospel serves as a lovely prelude to the Passion of Jesus.
Jesus is back in the house of his friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus, recently brought back from the dead. Perhaps these are his last moments of companionship before the horrors that are to come. True to character, Martha is the active hostess. Mary, the contemplative, brings in a jar of an expensive perfumed unguent and pours it all over the feet of Jesus, filling the house with its fragrance. It is a sign of great love and echoes what the “sinful” woman in Luke’s gospel also did. This account is probably the same as that described in Mark 14:3-9 and Matthew 26:6-13 but is distinct from the story of the woman in Luke 7:36-50.
While the “Beloved Disciple” is a nameless character in John’s gospel, he can be matched by this beloved disciple.
Judas, the spiritually blind materialist, only sees what he regards as terrible waste. Hypocritically he suggests the money would have been better spent helping the poor. John suggests Judas was more interested in getting the money for himself than sharing it with those in need.
Jesus sees an altogether different meaning in Mary’s action. He sees the tremendous love behind the action and interprets it as a symbolical anointing for his burial. Dying as a common criminal, Jesus would normally not have been anointed. (And, in fact, he was not anointed after his burial; when the women went to do the act on Sunday morning, Jesus was already risen.)
“You have the poor with you always, you will not always have me.” This is not to be understood any cynical way. The poor cannot be truly loved except in God and in Jesus.
“As often as you do it to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you do it to me.” Only those who truly love God (whatever name they call him) are able truly to love the poor and all those in need. And vice versa. Also, in Jewish tradition there was disagreement as to whether giving alms to the poor or burying the dead (which would include anointing) was the greater act of mercy. Those in favour of burial thought it an essential condition for sharing in the final resurrection.
Finally, we are told Lazarus’ own life is in danger as well as Jesus’. Lazarus is seen as the living sign of Jesus’ divine power and so they both must be wiped out. Many of the Church’s martyrs died for the same reason. The word ‘martyr’ means ‘witness’, witnessing to the truth, love and power of Christ.
Am I willing to be a martyr-witness for Christ, to stand beside him on the cross as he is mocked and insulted? This is the week for me to find the answer to that question.

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