Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where he had raised Lazarus, the dead man, to life. Now they gave a dinner for him, and while Martha waited on them, Lazarus sat at the table with Jesus.
Then Mary took a pound of costly perfume, made from genuine spikenard, and anointed the feet of Jesus, wiping them with her hair. And the whole house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
Judas Iscariot—the disciple who was to betray Jesus—remarked, “This perfume could have been sold for three hundred silver coins, and the money given to the poor.” Judas, indeed, had no concern for the poor; he was a thief, and as he held the common purse, he used to help himself to the funds.
But Jesus spoke up, “Leave her alone. Was she not keeping it for the day of my burial? (The poor you always have with you, but you will not always have me.)”
Many Jews heard that Jesus was there and they came, not only because of Jesus, but also to see Lazarus whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests thought about killing Lazarus as well, for many of the Jews were drifting away because of him, and believing in Jesus.
If one is asked for a word to describe the action in this gospel reading, “lavish!” is that one word. It is defined as profuse bestowal and the term is always associated with riches, never with poverty. It is a positive word and therefore not connected with criticism or frugality. In the reading, Mary’s lavish expression of love foreshadows that of Jesus. She pours out not only her most precious possession, a “very costly oil of spikenard” but also her entire self on Jesus, the one who, moments later, will pour himself out on the world, a lavish love that would cost him his life. In the context of that period, spices and ointments were often used as an investment because they occupied a small space, were portable, and were easily negotiable in the open market. Mary’s act does not only foreshadow Jesus’ self-giving, it also mirrors the lavishness of God so often expressed in the gospels. We are challenged today to reflect on what truly motivates us in our Christian giving. Can we be like Mary whose spontaneous, unmeasured giving was not motivated by any profit or investment, but by a grateful loving response to God’s lavish love?
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