There is something about Mary…Mary of Bethany
Holy Week – Monday
John 12: 1-11
Betrayal is written all over the next three days; and Judas, the betrayer is at the heart of it. But then again it all depends on what you want to see, betrayal or love. Because within the gospel texts, from today to Sunday, we also see people of faith, people like you and me who love the Lord, yet struggle; Peter, John, Nicodemus, Veronica, Simon of Cyrene, the women who followed Jesus , Mary the mother of Jesus and then there is Mary of Bethany.
Most likely, the reader of today’s gospel will breeze over the text and settle on the Judas interaction. He seems to somehow, get our attention; the Lords betrayer, thirty silver pieces, the man who tainted the word ‘kiss’. But look carefully, there is another character whose most seemingly simple action would merely get a ‘that’s nice’ nod from us. She is Mary of Bethany and she deserves much of our admiration and attention.
What do we know about Mary? For starters she loves Jesus and she loves to be at his feet. When the Lord visits her home, she is at His feet, while Martha complained away (Luke 10: 39). When her brother Lazarus dies, she too with her sister tells Him, “If you had been here my brother would not have died” and then she is at his feet. (John 11:32) Watch where she is today? No prizes for guessing she is at His feet. (John 12:3)
It was traditional for the slave of the home, to wash the feet of the master when he returned. This job could also be performed by the women of the house if the family did not own a slave. Mary performs this humble task but takes it to another level.
The gospel of John puts Bethany in the spotlight again. The first time we hear of Bethany is in John’s gospel, chapter 1:28. It is John the Baptist who is preaching and we are told this takes place ‘in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptising.’ But John also tells us that he is ‘unworthy to tie the thongs of Jesus’ sandal.’
Now, many moons later, it is in Bethany, that a woman, who has a chosen spot at the Lords feet, is found worthy to not only untie his sandals but also anoint His feet with ‘costly perfume’ and wipe it with her hair. To many in the room, such an act must have been bizarre, wasteful and unthinkable. Judas led the pack in such thinking. But Mary of Bethany has anticipated a much loved ritual in the Church. She has washed the Lord’s feet long before He does the same for his disciples.
But there is more to it than meets the eye; for the nose now kicks in! We are told that Mary used a ‘costly perfume’ made of ‘pure nard’ and the ‘house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.’ There is an unmatched generosity, as Mary runs to the ‘corner of her treasures’ and brings out 453.592 grams (that’s a pound) of ‘costly perfume’.
Think of yourself running in to get a bottle of ‘Clive Christian’s Imperial Majesty’ retailing at $215,000 for 16.9 ounce, which you bought to pour on Jesus’ feet. Mary did exactly that, she had bought it (12:7) and it cost her three hundred denarii, a year’s labour for this perfume made from the extract of Spikenard, (also called nard) which is an aromatic amber-coloured essential oil derived from Nardostachys jatamansi, a flowering plant which grows in the Himalayas of Nepal, China, and India.
Compare now the generosity of the ‘perfume of a disciple’ to the ‘stench of a betrayer.’ Judas’ greed barely solicits a line for a response to his ‘condemnation’ of her action. True enough, Jesus rebukes him, “Leave her alone.” Mary is vindicated. She goes down in history as the woman who loved much.
Written on behalf of the Holy Spirit
Dedicated to the many women in our congregation who are always at the Lord’s feet.
The comparison of John the Baptist and Mary of Bethany is an idea taken from Dirk Lange
Fr Warner D’Souza may be contacted on whatsap on +91- 9820242151.
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