Six days before Passover Jesus came to Bethany,
where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.
They gave a dinner for him there, and Martha served,
while Lazarus was one of those reclining at table with him.
Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil
made from genuine aromatic nard
and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair;
the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.
Then Judas the Iscariot, one of his disciples,
and the one who would betray him, said,
“Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages
and given to the poor?”
He said this not because he cared about the poor
but because he was a thief and held the money bag
and used to steal the contributions.
So Jesus said, “Leave her alone.
Let her keep this for the day of my burial.
You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
The large crowd of the Jews found out that he was there and came,
not only because of him, but also to see Lazarus,
whom he had raised from the dead.
And the chief priests plotted to kill Lazarus too,
because many of the Jews were turning away
and believing in Jesus because of him.
As we enter into Holy Week, this Gospel reminds us that it is never a waste to be extravagant in our love for Jesus, in the time, resources, and gifts we pour out to Him. Mary’s gift of perfumed oil, something that seems a waste to Judas and the Pharisees, is a response to Jesus’s gratuitous, unfathomable love for her. We are called to love as Jesus loves, and His love is not measured or practical. His love for us is so deep, so broad, so merciful, that it defies all sense. We, unworthy sinners, are loved by a God who sent His only Son to die for us on a cross. Any gift we give Him, any oil we pour upon His feet, could never match the Precious Blood He spilled for us.
This extravagant love can make us uncomfortable at times: because we know we are undeserving, we know we are incapable of repaying such bottomless love. Our pride and our tendency toward sin hold us back from loving God with all our mind, heart, soul, and strength. When we are holding something back from God, it bothers us to see others pouring themselves out to Him wholeheartedly. Our discomfort may cause us to try and tear them down rather than taking a look at our own hearts. Judas, knowing his own deceit toward Jesus, tried to call out Mary’s act of love as impractical. He disguised his selfish intentions as concern for the poor, rationalizing his lack of love instead of facing the coldness in his heart. The Pharisees, disturbed by how Lazarus claimed that Jesus had brought him back to life, plotted to kill him. They couldn’t fathom such a miracle and dismissed it out of hand, clinging to their old, comfortable ways. But Jesus didn’t come to make us comfortable.
“The world offers you comfort. But you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.” —Pope Benedict XVI
Mary, on the other hand, understood that loving Jesus and loving the poor were not mutually exclusive, that only by drawing close to Him, serving Him, pouring herself out to Him, and allowing herself to be loved by Him could she learn how to love and serve others. She understood that Jesus truly had the power to bring the dead to life, and instead of allowing bewilderment or discomfort to hold her back from Him, she drew closer to the Source of all life and humbled herself at His feet. And in anointing Him with perfumed oil, she was unknowingly preparing Him for a burial that was soon to come, for His final sacrifice, the completion of His act of boundless love toward us. When Jesus told Judas to let Mary keep the oil for the day of His burial, only He knew that burial was just one week away. Only He realized how little time she had left to express her love toward Him, and how this act of love might sustain her through the grief that was to come.
Let us draw close to Jesus as we prepare to celebrate His Passion and death; let us not be afraid to come near to Him in His suffering. The profound sorrow of Good Friday can make us uncomfortable, and it might seem easier to just skip ahead to Easter, but we are called to enter into Christ’s Passion in order to share in His Resurrection. As we fast and pray, let us remember that Jesus did so much more for us, more than we can ever repay, and our sacrifices now are really a chance to have just a small taste of how much He sacrificed for us. His love is so strong, so powerful, that we might be intimidated by it: don’t back away, but dare to take a step closer.