Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life
Monday of Holy Week
April 10, 2017
Is 42:1-7, Ps 27, Jn 12:1-11
To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- As we enter more deeply into this holiest week of the year, the Church gives us an important frame of how we’re supposed to see what God is doing this week from his perspective and how we’re supposed to respond. We see this in the two different anointings of Jesus that the readings describe today. They show us how Christ was anointed as Messiah precisely to restore us to our relationship with God and others and how we, too, filled with the gift received, will naturally want to show how lavish is our gratitude.
- The first anointing we see is the one God the Father does of his Son by the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s spoken of today in the first reading from the Prophet Isaiah. (This reading is the first of the four “Suffering Servant Songs” found in Isaiah, which are the most explicit prophecies of what Jesus himself would suffer and accomplish for us this week out of merciful love. Today we ponder the first of the four, from Is 42. Tomorrow, we tackled the second, from Is 49. Wednesday we’ll discuss the third, from Is 50. And finally on Good Friday, we’ll have the fourth and most moving of all, from Is 52-53.) Today we see what God himself says and does. “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my Spirit,” he tells us through the Prophet. The Father has anointed the Son, as we see occur at Jesus’ baptism, when the Holy Spirit comes down upon him like a dove. Earlier in Isaiah, with words that were fulfilled in Jesus, Isaiah says, “The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord.”
- Today a job description that flows from that anointing is given to us, a description Jesus will fulfill to the letter this week: “He shall bring forth justice to the nations, not crying out, not shouting, not making his voice heard in the street. A bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench, until he establishes justice on the earth.” We know that several times during his publicly ministry Jesus shouted out against the hypocrisy of the Scribes and the Pharisees. We know that he overturned money changers’ tables and drove out animals from the temple area with a whip. But this week, he didn’t cry out as he was carrying his Cross through the streets. This week he didn’t exert any force sufficient to break a frail reed. He was doing this to establish justice on the earth, taking all the sin upon himself so that he could take that poison away from us and have us life.
- As he was doing this, he was not alone. God the Father and the Holy Spirit was with him, guiding him, every step along the way of the Cross. “I, the Lord, have called you for the victory of justice, I have grasped you by the hand.” And he foretold that he would guide him to this fulfillment from his earliest days in Mary’s womb: “I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.” Jesus would become the light and salvation — as we prayed in the Psalm — not just of the Jews, but of the nations, whom he would lead from confinement and dark dungeons into the light of life. He would not just seal a Covenant between God and man but become that new and eternal Covenant. All of these actions were those of merciful liberation. This frames all that Jesus will be doing this week. He was anointed to do all of this as the merciful Suffering Servant of both God and us.
- What should our response be to that incredible love of God that would permit all of this? It’s shown in today’s Gospel in the second anointing of today’s readings. During a dinner that took place likely very soon after Jesus’ raising Lazarus from the dead, Mary of Bethany took a liter of costly aromatic spikenard, 300 days wages worth — about a full year’s salary since the person would take the Sabbath off — and with lavish love “wasted” it on Jesus’ feet, wiping the oil off with her hair, a real gesture of total commitment to Jesus. We recall an earlier scene in St. Luke’s Gospel when a sinful women in Simon the Pharisee’s house washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair, how Jesus said she loved much because she had been forgiven much (Lk 7). Mary of Bethany, although we do not know what type of life she lived before Jesus entered her and her family members’ lives, doubtless loved God very much because, regardless of her past sins, she knew that God’s love was greater. The fragrant nard came from the oil of the roots of a flower that grows only in China, India and Nepal that would need to be crushed to get a minuscule amount of oil out of it. Just imagine one would need to crush to get a liter of oil — no wonder why it was so costly. Last night I looked on Amazon.com and 5 milliliters of this aromatic spikenard cost $43.50. Multiply that by 200 and you get a liter, for $8,700, and that’s much less expensive today that it was in Mary’s time, but still, to pour it out on Jesus’ feet was a sign of lavish lov. Judas expressed his outrage that someone would show such overflowing attention to Jesus. As Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen noted, he knew the price of everything and the value of nothing, and Mary just wasted on Jesus’ feet more than three times what Judas himself would receive for betraying Jesus, because the 30 silver shekels Judas would be awarded were equivalent to 90 days wages.
- But Jesus defended Mary and gave us in a sentence with three very important principles: “Leave her alone,” he said. “Let her keep this for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
- Jesus tells us, first, that he is about to die and be buried, something that seemed to surprise Judas when Jesus was condemned to death after Judas’ treachery. Mary had grasped what Jesus must have told her, Martha and Lazarus in their home that he would die and rise again and so lead us, as she said before the raising of her brother on the fourth day, to the “resurrection on the last day.” She believed and wanted to thank Jesus in advance. Judas’ words about caring for the poor were, we know in retrospect, just a cover. They were a false compassion. Many times people can fake caring about the poor, pretending to be merciful, because they want to be the center of attention and don’t really get how people can be munificent, lavish lovers of Christ.
- Second, he tells us that we will always have the poor among us, because God always wants them to teach the world about spiritual poverty and dependence on God but also so that the world may become ever more a place of love by compelling people out of their selfishness to become Good Samaritans and mercifully help those in need.
- But the most important principle is that we need to prioritize him and never take him for granted. It’s a constant temptation for us to put other things, activities or persons — especially good things, activities and persons! — above Jesus. So many of us are tempted to behave as if Jesus can always wait as we run all our errands while saying “I’ll pray later,” only to run out of gas at the end of the day and pray very poorly. Our other activities can become an excuse for us to love Jesus less. Even during Holy Week, we can spend so much time on the little details of hospitality and the various liturgical items that need to be prepared that we can end up missing Jesus in all the hustle and bustle. Jesus by his words reminds us that we should never take him for granted. Mary of Bethany’s lavish love for him is a reminder to us of how we should love him. If she was willing to “waste” a year’s work on Jesus, can we “waste” a week? Can we “waste” the time during the Triduum to give the Lord our full attention?
- We need to learn from Mary of Bethany how to anoint Jesus with lavish love this week and beyond. We need to learn from her how to express our gratitude for his merciful love. At a practical level we can ask: how can we imitate her gesture of anointing Jesus’s feet with precious oil and wiping them with her feet? I’d like to propose two ways.
- The first is by our receptivity in prayer, which will allow Jesus to do what he wants to do in us this Holy Week. On another occasion when Jesus was invited over to their house for dinner, Mary sat at his feet as Martha was once again serving. Martha criticized Mary for what she interpreted as her laziness, but Jesus defended her, saying that Mary had chosen the better part and it wouldn’t be taken away from her, that she had recognized the one thing necessary and was willing to give everything for that pearl of precious price. She grasped what Martha didn’t, that Jesus had come to their home not to be fed but to feed and she sat at his feet anointing them with her faithful receptivity. She spent time with him. She listened to him. In short, she was engaging in contemplative prayer. That’s the first way we can anoint Jesus’ feet this week, by coming with love to spend time with him, fully attentive, sitting at his feet, and letting him feed us. We’ll always have our problems. We’ll always have others in need. But we can’t think that we’ll always have the opportunity to be with him. This is a week to anoint Jesus’ feet and whole person with our love, with the fruits of our work, with our lives, with all our mind, heart, soul and strength, just as she did.
- The second way we can anoint Jesus’ feet is to walk in his footsteps. Jesus’ feet aren’t static; they’re on the move. If we’re going to anoint him we need to be moving with him. Elsewhere in the Gospel Jesus said, “Whoever wants to serve me, let him follow me, and where I am, there also my servant shall be” (Jn 12:26). St. Peter commented on this, “Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his footsteps” (1 Pet 2:21). Christ’s whole passion was an act of love meant to get us to trust in his mercy and follow his ways. This week we’re called to anoint his feet as he seeks to wash the feet of his disciples and to commission them to wash and anoint Christ’s feet in others. We’re called to anoint his feet as he heads out into the Garden and asks us to come with him to spend an hour in prayer. We’re summoned to anoint his feet each step along the way of the Cross. We’re called to venerate his feet pierced with rude nails and hammered to a tree. We’re beckoned to anoint his feet just like Nicodemus and the women did as his body was taken down from the Cross and laid in the tomb. And we’re invited to enter into the wounds of his feet, like doubting Thomas, as Jesus is raised from the dead. To follow Jesus’ footsteps up close each of the days of this holiest of weeks so that we may be strengthened to follow those same steps in going out with him to save the world.
- Today as we prepare to receive with us Jesus, the new and eternal Covenant, our Light and our Salvation, recognizing that we will not always have him with us and that therefore we’re called to prioritize him as the one thing necessary and better part, we thank his Father for anointing him and sending him to us to suffer so that he may say to us today, “This is the chalice of my blood, … which will be poured out for you and for many,” an interior anointing far more than precious nard poured from Mary’s jar. And we ask now for the grace that we may love him like Mary of Bethany, anointing him with lavish love here at Mass, in prayer, and in our Christian discipleship and vocations!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
my chosen one with whom I am pleased,
Upon whom I have put my Spirit;
he shall bring forth justice to the nations,
Not crying out, not shouting,
not making his voice heard in the street.
A bruised reed he shall not break,
and a smoldering wick he shall not quench,
Until he establishes justice on the earth;
the coastlands will wait for his teaching.
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spreads out the earth with its crops,
Who gives breath to its people
and spirit to those who walk on it:
I, the LORD, have called you for the victory of justice,
I have grasped you by the hand;
I formed you, and set you
as a covenant of the people,
a light for the nations,
To open the eyes of the blind,
to bring out prisoners from confinement,
and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.
PS 27:1, 2, 3, 13-14
The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom should I fear?
The LORD is my life’s refuge;
of whom should I be afraid?
R. The Lord is my light and my salvation.
When evildoers come at me
to devour my flesh,
My foes and my enemies
themselves stumble and fall.
R. The Lord is my light and my salvation.
Though an army encamp against me,
my heart will not fear;
Though war be waged upon me,
even then will I trust.
R. The Lord is my light and my salvation.
I believe that I shall see the bounty of the LORD
in the land of the living.
Wait for the LORD with courage;
be stouthearted, and wait for the LORD.
R. The Lord is my light and my salvation.
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.”
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.