The Servant of the LORD: Isaiah 42: 1-9 Jesus Anointed at Bethany: John 12:1-11
I am amazed by the richness and the beauty of this scene. We see this woman taken in spirit and body by this experience, giving generously not only what she has, represented in the expensive bottle of ointment, but also what she is, as she humbly dries her beloved’s feet with her hair. The whole picture fills the senses with the fragrance of Mary’s generous gesture of love for Jesus.
It is difficult for me not to be moved by this act, seemingly useless and worthless, but so rich in meaning and intimate affection. It is a window to contemplate a tender expression of love and devotion for Jesus, our Lord, that mirrors, in my opinion, the self-giving passion that moves us to generously respond to Jesus’ call as disciples and religious women and men.
This woman makes herself openly present to Jesus and speaks to Him with the voice of the human heart making a public manifestation of her deep love and her cherished relationship with Jesus. This does not come across unnoticed to the people around. As Christians and religious we are also called to be a sign of this profound reality: the call that human beings have, to freely live and share their lives with and in the presence of our God. This becomes visible and can be sensed by others when we follow our desire to make our relationship with God the center of our being and when it becomes the source and the force that drives our lives, thoughts and actions.
When we open our lives to God in a generous and authentic way, we allow the scent of Christ to fill our lives. These become impregnated with the Love of God in the same way that the very expensive aromatic oil of the story filled the house of Lazarus, Martha and Mary. As Paul, another passionate disciple of our Lord, says in 2 Corinthians verse 14, we must become “the aroma of Christ,”- an aroma of life that leads to life.
The prophet Isaiah gives us a hint of that aroma of Christ in the first reading, as he describes the Suffering Servant. The Servant of God has the aroma of compassion: “a bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench.” This servant exudes also the aroma of justice and the aroma of love that brings light for the nations, healing for the blind, freedom for the prisoners and salvation for us sinners. This is the aroma of life that in us should become a prophetic voice for a world in much need of love, consolation, compassion and hope.
Our lives should also speak of adoration and devotion to our God, as the image of the anointing of Jesus’ feet does. The gesture of Mary pouring the perfumed oil on Jesus’ feet symbolizes for me the gift of self surrender to God’s plan that brings about the consummation of our lives for the sake of Jesus’ mission. A consummation that takes place as we humbly allow God to shape us as the disciples God wants us to be.
The question that Judas asks Mary may be a question that we are going to hear many times during our lives. Why? Why do you want to be a nun, a sister, a brother or a priest? Why don’t you serve God in a different way? Why don’t you help the poor in a way that seems more effective and productive by the standards of our modern world? Why don’t you spend that oil and that money in the name of self interest as the hidden intention of Judas seems to indicate? Maybe that is part of the purpose of our lives as women and men religious: to become question marks for others who, we hope, may be drawn closer by their curiosity, to the fragrance of God’s mystery in our call.
At the end, the purpose of our existence, a question that chases our human thirst for meaning, will be only fully revealed in God, just as only Jesus could have revealed the hidden purpose of Mary’s action: the preparation of Jesus body for his death. We can only marvel as maybe Mary did facing Jesus’ an unexpected answer, as we contemplate with awe the vast, incomprehensible, plan of God in which our lives take place.