Today, as we celebrate Palm Sunday, we enter into the most holy time of the Church’s year. And today we hear the account from Saint John’s Gospel of how Jesus was anointed by Saint Mary of Bethany.
Yesterday, on Lazarus Saturday, we commemorated how Jesus Christ had raised Lazarus from the dead, thus providing us with a foretaste of His own resurrection. Today’s Gospel places us in Bethany again, where Christ had gone to visit Mary and Martha and Lazarus. And we are told that Mary brought in a jar of very costly ointment, pouring it on Jesus’ feet and wiping them with her hair, to the irritation of Judas Iscariot who saw this as a waste of money.
The Church gives us this reading as we enter Holy Week because, as Christ Himself says, Mary is anointing Him for burial. Her action is a prophetic gesture, showing who He really is and prophesying the death that He is about to undergo. But this is also an action that reveals the tender devotion that Jesus Christ evokes in His followers. In anointing His feet with precious ointment, Mary was giving to Christ the most costly thing she had. She was, in effect, pouring out her whole life before Him.
As we enter Holy Week, this Gospel challenges us to bring our whole lives to Christ, and to allow His suffering and death to touch us in the depths of our hearts, so that we too will be able to respond to Him with our whole lives.
In loving this Body, that is, the Church, bring water for His feet and kiss His feet, not only pardoning those who have become enmeshed in sin but by your grace giving them harmony and putting them at peace. Pour ointment on His feet, that the whole house wherein Christ reclines at table may be filled with the odour of your ointment, that all at table may be pleased with your perfume. In other words, pay honour to the least.
Saint Ambrose of Milan
The Gospel According to John 12:1-18:
Six days before Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazaros was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. There they made him a supper; Martha served, and Lazaros was one of those at table with him. Mary took a pound of costly ointment of pure nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was to betray him), said “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” This he said, not that he cared for the poor but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box he used to take what was put into it. Jesus said, “Let her alone, let her keep it for the day of my burial. The poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”
When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came, not only on account of Jesus but also to see Lazaros, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazaros also to death, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.
The next day a great crowd who had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” And Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it; as it is written, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” His disciples did not understand this at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that this had been written of him and had been done to him. The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazaros out of the tomb and raised him from the dead bore witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign.