Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Marienhaus, Germany
Monday of Holy Week
April 17, 2000
Is 42:1-7; Jn 12:1-11
Today’s Gospel reading presents us two contrasting responses to Jesus, that of Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha, and that of Judas. If we truly know ourselves, we can, in each, at different times of our lives, hear the Church again telling us, “You are that man!” “You are that woman!” And hence as we continue to move closer to the Church’s holy trinity of days, it would be very good for us to focus on their responses, so that we can, this Holy Week, this Easter, make a wholehearted, grace-filled response to the Lord.
Mary’s response is characterized above all by loving GENEROSITY. If Judas’ calculations were accurate, the amount of precious nard she poured on Jesus’ feet was worth three-hundred denarii, or three hundred full day’s wages. She would have spent, therefore, nearly a whole year of work solely for the opportunity to anoint Jesus, to anoint the Anointed One (Messiah) himself, with this precious aromatic oil. But her munificent response didn’t stop there, but she gave of herself totally, wiping Jesus’ feet with her hair. In St. Luke’s Gospel, Jesus praises Mary for having found the “one thing necessary,” Jesus himself. She had found him, and as we see in today’s Gospel, she was willing to give over what was probably all or most of her savings in an act of love to Jesus, the one and only truly important person or thing in her life. When Jesus explicitly linked her act to his burial, he was saying that indeed she recognized this one thing necessary, that his death and consequent resurrection was something worth all that Mary had, and all that any of us has. Jesus is that pearl of great price worth selling all of our other possession to obtain!
We are called to follow Mary’s example in our own discipleship, anointing Jesus’s feet with our love, with our work, with our lives, just as she did. How can we best do this? There’s no better way to anoint Jesus’s feet than to walk in his footsteps, to follow Jesus. Jesus said, “Whoever wants to serve me, let him follow me, and where I am, there also my servant shall be.” St. Peter commented on this, “Christ died for us, leaving us an example, that we might follow his ways.” Christ’s whole passion was an act of love meant to get us to trust in him and follow HIS ways, not OURS. Mary did. She sat as his feet, loved him and worshipped him. This was the one thing necessary for her, and, as Jesus promised, it would be taken away from her. And if we choose to follow Jesus as Mary did, neither will it be taken away from us!
Judas’ response is in sharp contrast to that of Mary. Judas, as St. John’s account clearly tells us, was a thief. He robs from Christ, from the other apostles, from the incipient Church. Jesus, for him, was merely an excuse for him to seek after his own interests. Jesus was not the one thing necessary. Jesus wasn’t even an end, but merely a means for Judas to satisfy his own greed. Judas supposedly had serious qualms of conscience about the failure to sell the year’s worth of aromatic nard, BUT HE THOUGHT NOTHING ABOUT SELLING JESUS FOR 30 PIECES OF SILVER! Judas was a disciple merely in his body, not in his heart. He had followed Jesus during his public ministry, he had been called personally by him, he had even been trusted by him with the money bag for the Twelve, but he had never gotten to know Jesus, and had never gotten to love him.
There are, unfortunately, still Judases in the Church. And if we’re not careful, we could add to their number. Judas, again, had lived with the Lord, had externally followed the Lord throughout his public ministry, had seen him feed thousands, had seen him walk on water, had seen him raise Lazarus, Tabitha, the widow of Naim’s only son and others, and yet STILL betrayed him, still considered him as someone worth less than a handful of silver. Following Jesus externally is not enough! We likewise supposedly follow Jesus in religious life. We participate in the miracle of the Mass every day. Everyone identifies us as his followers. But we need to be his disciples more than merely in body, as Judas was, but be disciples in the heart, as he wasn’t — lest we become like Judas and even perhaps betray Jesus for less. There are plenty in the Church who betray Jesus every day. Many Churchmen in South America have betrayed Jesus for Marxism, using the poor as an excuse to try to advance a political ideology. Many in the Northern Hemisphere have betrayed Jesus for false capitalism, using Jesus’s holy name as merely a marketing tool in televangelism. Many other Churchmen and women betray Jesus by cheating on their vocations in various ways. At pontifical universities in Rome, I have known both a woman and a man who have been propositioned by their priest professors during exams! On the outside these priests who have been called by the Lord, who look like Shepherds, who even are considered good ones, are on the inside truly ravenous wolves! We have all seen, too, religious men and women betray Jesus by making him basically a means for whatever their agenda is, whether it be “vocations,” or “social justice,” or “gender equity,” or any other of countless pet causes. The point is, as Jesus himself said, “What will it profit you if you gain the whole world but forfeit your life?” And too many are forfeiting their spiritual lives, like Judas, for far less than the whole world!
This Holy Week we are called to beg God for forgiveness for all those times we have betrayed him and ask him for, and respond wholeheartedly to, the graces he gives us so that we may follow his footsteps completely and make him the one thing necessary in our lives. And Jesus, when it comes right down to it, isn’t asking us to do anything he didn’t do for us. We’re called to anoint his feet like Mary, but he, as we will celebrate on Holy Thursday night, washes our feet, and if they need it, our hands and head as well. He made us His ONE THING NECESSARY, dying out of love for each and every one of us. St. Paul recognized this when he said, quite poignantly and personally, Christ “loved ME and gave himself up for ME.” By his loving death and resurrection, Christ did for each one of us something much greater than he ever did for his friend Lazarus, whom he merely resuscitated. He gave us, likewise his friends, the opportunity to be raised from the dead once and for all, so that we might one day fully enter into that eternal banquet where he, in a far more effective way than Martha could have, will gird himself with an apron and wait on us! So great and generous a love as this demands in return all we have and are!