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An act of love

By Leela Ramdeen, Chair, CCSJ & Director, CREDI

“Palm Sunday tells us that … it
is the cross that
is the true tree of life.”
—Pope Emeritus Benedict

Today, Sunday, March 28, as we begin our observance of Holy Week, we remember the Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem before His Passion and Resurrection.

In our gospel reading Mark 14:1–15:47, I wish to focus on the anointing of Jesus at Bethany – the same place where Jesus had raised Lazarus. The anointing takes place after Jesus leaves Galilee for the final time to go up to Jerusalem.

All four gospels tell a story about a woman anointing Jesus (Matt 26:6–13; Mk 14:3–9; Lk 7:36–50; and Jn 12:1–8). In today’s gospel, Mark does not name the woman; in the Gospel of John, she is named Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus.

In Mark we read that two days before the Passover –the holiday commemorating the exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt, she enters the house of Simon the leper, where Jesus was having dinner, on His way to Jerusalem.

In those days devout Jews would go to Jerusalem for the Passover. Bethany was situated just outside Jerusalem, on the slope of the Mount of Olives. It was the town where Jesus’ friends Martha, Mary, and Lazarus lived.

Mary’s action should lead us to reflect on what we are prepared to give to the Lord. Nard, an amber-coloured essential perfumed oil, which is made out of a flower growing in the Himalayas, is very expensive.

She comes in with an alabaster jar of “very costly ointment, pure nard”; breaks the jar and pours the ointment on Jesus’ head. So, while it was a sign of hospitality to anoint the head of a guest, I am sure that an entire jar of nard would not normally be used.

What love, what devotion, what humility, what a profound act of generosity on Mary’s part. Note that in the Gospel of John, Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with nard and wiped them with her own hair.

And when some who were there in the house of Simon got angry and expressed their indignation stating that she wasted the ointment, and that it could have been sold for over 300 denarii, more than a year’s wages in those days, and the money given to the poor, note Jesus’ response: “Leave her alone. Why are you upsetting her?”

Not only did He see her action as “one of the good works”, but she did what was “in her power to do: she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial.” This anointing, therefore, can be seen to anticipate Jesus’ death and burial.

Jesus goes on to say: “You have the poor with you always, and you can be kind to them whenever you wish, but you will not always have me.”

In April 2020, Pope Francis reminds us that, “When Jesus says: ‘You always have the poor with you,’ it means: ‘I will always be with you in the poor. I will be present there.’”

“It is a part of the cityscape to have poor people. However, the vast majority of the poor are victims of economic policies, of financial policies. Some recent statistics make the summary like this: there is a lot of money in the hands of a few and so much poverty in many … and this is the poverty of so many victims of the structural injustice in the global economy,” he said.

He reminds us that on the day of judgment God will judge us by how we treated the poor. He said that “the first question Jesus will ask at the final judgment will be: ‘How did you treat the poor? Did you feed them? Did you visit those in prison, in hospital? Did you help the widow and the orphan? Because I was there.’” Remember Matthew 25:40.

Would we pass the test? Do we see Jesus in the poor? St Teresa of Calcutta was right when she said: “We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. … The poverty of being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty…It is not the magnitude of our actions but the amount of love that is put into them that matters.”

As we enter Holy Week during the pandemic, let us pray that God’s boundless love will continue to sustain us.

The economy needs ethics in order to function correctly – not any ethics whatsoever, but an ethics which is people-centered. (45)

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate

CCSJ Social Justice Education Committee