I would guess that Mary has not planned to break open her perfume jar that evening. She may be saving it for her wedding night or as financial security for her future. I suspect her decision is one of those spontaneous things we do because we couldn’t live with ourselves if we did anything else.
But this is Jesus—the one who raised her brother, Lazarus, from the grave. Since then, opposition to Jesus has been building. She instinctively knows that sooner rather than later, Jesus will end up in a tomb too. This might be her last opportunity to express her gratitude and love.
Without weighing the consequences, she breaks open the jar, empties the perfume onto Jesus’ feet, and wipes his feet with her hair.
Judas asks why the perfume isn’t sold and the money given to the poor. Mark’s version of this story indicates that all the disciples are angry. None of them can understand why Mary squanders her most precious possession in this spendthrift way.
But Jesus understands. He knows that she knows the end is near. In Mark’s version, Jesus says, “She has done what she could” (Mark 14:8). He receives her gift as a beautiful act of selfless gratitude for the self-giving love of God that will be revealed at the cross. It is all she can do.
Sometimes the only reasonable way to confront the unreasonable evil, pain, and suffering of our world is to do whatever we can with whatever we have in our hands. The only way to respond to the costly love of God at the cross is to offer our own act of costly love. Sometimes it’s all we can do.
Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small; love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all. (umh, no. 298)
The readings for Holy Week focus our attention on the sacrifice made by the Messiah. The prophecies in Isaiah speak of it. The Psalms tell of confidence in God even in the midst of betrayal and suffering like that experienced by Jesus. The author of Hebrews celebrates Jesus’ death as the final and perfect sacrifice. Paul describes crucifixion as the center of our teaching as Christians. We follow these events through the eyes of two Gospel writers, particularly John. Jesus foreshadows his death in multiple ways, but even his closest followers struggle to understand and accept its meaning. Why would the Son of God experience such alienation and suffering? It is all for us, the ultimate work of love. But then he conquers the grave! Praise be to God!
Read John 13:21-32. When have you noticed darkness planting seeds of betrayal in your heart? How did you follow Jesus’ light?
Read John 13:1-7, 31b-35. What status symbols do you hold on to that keep you from following Jesus’ example of humble service?
Read Isaiah 53:1-5. On Good Friday, God enters into human suffering. When have you felt God’s presence in your suffering?
Read John 20:1-18. How has Christ found you?
Respond by posting a prayer.
I join many of those who will pray for you as you seek to discern what you are called to be at this moment. May God grant you the courage to fulfill that calling. May we all open our eyes and see the misery, open our ears and hear the cries of God’s people, and, like God through the Lord Jesus Christ, be incarnate amongst them.”
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