After His disciplined three-year public ministry of preaching, offering signs of His divinity and forming His Apostles for their mission, Christ returns to Bethany (where He raised Lazarus from the dead) on the Saturday before the Jewish Passover. Preparing for His Passion, Christ attends a dinner in His honor at the home of Simon the Leper (Matt 26:6); Lazarus is at table and his sisters Martha and Mary prepare a meal for Christ and His Apostles.

While the industrious Martha serves, the deeply devoted Mary draws near to Christ to anoint His feet with pure nard, a highly fragrant oil from the spikenard plant which grows at high elevations in India. Taking a pound (a very large amount), Mary kneels before Christ and anoints His feet and wipes them with her hair; this is a disturbing act for women were not disciples of rabbis and letting down her hair in public and using her hair to wipe Christ’s feet was scandalous. But Christ commends Mary’s act; it is a profound act of adoration, provides a beautiful comfort to Christ and prefigures the burial preparations for Christ’s body after His death on the Cross. The beautiful fragrance of the spikenard and Mary’s humble act of love spreads through the house, a sign of the blessings of Christ’s Gospel that will spread throughout the world.

After the greedy Judas complains about Mary’s generous act, Christ bluntly rebukes Judas and defends Mary. Judas’ objection that the nard could be sold (almost a year’s wages for a day laborer; perhaps $25,000 in today’s dollars) for the poor is a false one; Judas is a thief who will ironically betray Christ for the paltry sum of 30 pieces of silver. Christ is not indifferent to the poor for elsewhere He instructs men to give alms; Christ commands that Mary keep the remainder to anoint His body at burial and may be establishing the future practice of supporting the financial needs of His Church (Acts 4:34-35). News of Christ’s presence quickly draw a crowd; the chief priests, to maintain their power and avoid a potential violent crackdown by the Romans, plan to kill Jesus and Lazarus because he is “evidence” of Christ’s supernatural power.

1) Marvel at Christ’s omniscience; He knows He will be crucified (and raised from the dead) and the inner motivations of Judas and Mary.

2) While the scandalous acts some Catholic clergy can shake faith, realize Christ has full knowledge of Judas’ betrayal but uses it for His glory. During Holy Week, renew your understanding of Scandal (CCC 2284-2287) and pray for Christ to bring His will to be done in spite of the evil acts of some in His Church.

3) Some object to the Church’s use of donations to build beautiful parish buildings or support priests and religious, arguing (like Judas!) it is better to give to the poor. During Holy Week, recall your Obligation to support the Church (CCC 2043, 1351) and pray for Christ to help you to be a good steward who generously supports the work of your parish, diocese and the broader Church.