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Monday of Holy Week

March 21, 2005

Blessed Monday!

Readings:
Isaiah 42:1-7 (the Messiah comes to rescue, not destroy)
Psalm 27:1-14 “The Lord is my light and my salvation”
+John 12:1-11 (Mary anoints Jesus’ feet)

The Passover is rapidly approaching, and preparations are in full swing. There are many physical details to attend to: preparing for guests; bringing out and arranging festive decorations; buying and preparing the special holiday foods; and using up or disposing of all yeast, leavened bread and anything used in making leavened bread, so the chances of breaking the command to eat only unleavened bread for a week are minimized. Perhaps the busyness and excitement could be compared to our preparations for Christmas.

There are also spiritual preparations to be made, as there are for us in this season of Lent. No one who was ritually unclean was permitted to participate in the Passover (Numbers 9:6-14, II Chronicles 30:1-3, 15-20), so people would come to Jerusalem early in order to go through the rites of ritual purification in the temple (we might see in this a foreshadowing of the practise of going to Confession before Communion, since the Mass is our Passover supper). Coming early might also help in the avoidance of last-minute ritual impurity. If there was a death in the family, everyone in the dwelling would be impure for at least a week (Exodus 19:11-20), so coming to Jerusalem a week early (leaving the elderly and the sick behind) would make it easier to avoid missing out on the feast (although there was provision for the ritually impure to celebrate the feast a month later, after they’d been purified, see Numbers 9:6-12).

It is early in this week of preparation for the Passover that Jesus and His disciples return to the home of His friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus. They haven’t seen Him since He raised Lazarus from the dead, so it’s no wonder that they throw a party in His honor! In fulfillment of Isaiah 42:7, He had brought Lazarus, the prisoner of death, out of confinement. Then, in fulfillment of Isaiah 42:2-3, He had withdrawn to a town near the desert, rather than make His voice heard in the street, crying out and causing a commotion against those who intended to put Him (and Lazarus) to death. Now that Jesus is finally back among them, Mary, Martha and Lazarus each exercise their special gifts in His honor: Martha serves, Lazarus joins Jesus at table, and Mary anoints His feet. Anointing a guest with oil was a common element of hospitality (see Psalm 23:5, Luke 7:46), so Judas’ protest seems to have been more over the unusually high cost of the ointment than over the anointing itself.

What a contrast we see between Judas and Mary! Mary, in her overwhelming gratitude, humbly honored Jesus with the best she had. Judas, who had received so much from his Lord (he was chosen by Jesus, Matthew 10:1-4, entrusted with the office of treasurer, John 12:6, and blessed by Jesus’ daily Presence), would deny Jesus this honor in order to line his own pockets (John 12:6)! Of course, he couldn’t say it quite that way. He had to make a pretext of holiness by recommending the poor. Jesus, knowing Judas’ true motive, nevertheless did not expose him as the thief he was (we might do well to keep this example in mind when we’re inclined to indiscriminately spread word about another’s sin). He simply reminded Judas that time was running out. Mary’s anointing anticipated the anointing His body would need at His burial, just a few days away.

Time is running out for us too. These last days of Lent are slipping away very quickly and the high holy days of Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday) will be upon us before we know it. Are we ready? Have we given of ourselves, as Mary, Martha and Lazarus did, in Jesus’ honor? Is He a welcome guest in our homes or would He feel out of place? Have we purified our souls so as to be worthy to partake of the Passover Supper of the Lamb: the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?

“Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (II Corinthians 6:2).

As Jesus prepares to die, may we not be found picking His pockets for our own indulgence,
in imitation of Judas, but rather lavishing Him with extravagant love, in imitation of Mary.

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