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Monday of Holy Week—April 6, 2009

  • Posted on Apr 6, 2009

Extravagant Love

Mary took a costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples(the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” John 12: 3-5

We have heard the story of Jesus’ passion on Palm Sunday. Beginning today, we go back. We remember the events of the Passion scene by scene. On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of Holy Week, we remember Jesus’ last days before the entrance into Jerusalem. What the gospels tell us in our lectionary readings is the depth of love. Not only Jesus’ love for us, but the disciples’ love for him. It is an extravagant love. A love that might make us very uncomfortable.

Today our Gospel reading is Mary anointing Jesus’ feet with a costly perfume. After anointing his feet, Mary then wipes Jesus’ feet with her hair. A tactile, sensual and intimate moment. Instead of washing his feet with water when he arrives for dinner, Mary makes an extravagant action expressing her love for Jesus. He does not stop her. He does not push her away. He accepts her extravagant offering. Not everyone does.

Judas complains to Jesus that she has wasted a costly ointment that could be sold and the money given to the poor. The text tells us Judas does not really care for the poor, but wants the money for himself. Perhaps this is so. However, I would hazard to guess that Mary’s loving action made Judas very uncomfortable. There have been many studies wondering why Judas betrayed Jesus as he did. Surely he loved him. Perhaps, as the other disciples discovered, Judas knew that Jesus did not have a favorite. Judas wanted to be a favorite. Perhaps he wanted to show Jesus his deep love for him. But he was afraid. Afraid of rejection. Afraid to offer a gift of love.

In Inquirer’s class last night, we discussed the liturgies of Holy Week. One of our classmates asked about the footwashing on Maundy Thursday. What was it like? Was it mandatory? The general consensus was that it made most of us uncomfortable yet we couldn’t really explain why. Some say it is because our feet are rather a private part of our bodies that are often a bit dirty. We don’t like to reveal them to another. This is true. What is also true, I believe, is that we are uncomfortable with someone touching us in love where we are vulnerable. It is hard for us to receive love. It is much easier to be the footwasher than the footwashee. On Maundy Thursday, we are often feeling a bit like Judas as he watched Mary give Jesus a gift of love and Jesus receive that gift willingly.

In practice, the liturgies of Holy Week are full of tactile actions that engage many of our senses. Some of the actions are deeply meaningful; others mean very little; and others make us downright uncomfortable. Everyone responds to these liturgies differently. Each year, I try to embrace those actions I love and open myself a bit more to those that I find uncomfortable. I often learn some interesting things about myself, the cross and love.

Exclusion and embrace. In our lives, in the liturgies of Holy Week, in the Passion story.
What action in Holy Week makes you most uncomfortable? May it be a gift of love offered?