The collect and readings for Monday in Holy Week May be found here. The appointed gospel is John 12:1-11.
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of 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?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.
“Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” Regardless of Judas’ motives or what he would have done with the money he asks a reasonable question. A pound of perfume worth three hundred denarii. That’s a year’s worth of work and wages. How many people could that money have helped? Hungry people. Sick people. Homeless people. To pour it all out at one time on one person does not make sense. It is neither practical nor efficient. Love never is. Mary seems to know that practicalities and efficiency are perhaps the two greatest threats to love. They will, as Judas will prove, always betray the relationship.
So in the gospel according to Luke Mary sits at the feet of Jesus listening while Martha distracts herself with many tasks. In today’s gospel she fragrances the life and impending death of Jesus with “a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard.” It is not just perfume, however. It is the entirety of her life, all that she is and all that she has. Nothing is held back. Mary loves while Judas calculates.
I can’t help but wonder how my own need for and attraction to practicalities and efficiency have diminished and betrayed love. Too often I have calculated instead of loved. Mary is the picture of extravagant, wasteful, unreasonable love.
Mary’s love foreshadows, prophesies, Jesus’ love. She anoints the feet of the one who will wash the feet of his disciples. She pours herself out on the one who will pour himself out on the world. Jesus’ love will cost everything he has. He holds nothing in reserve.
“Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” Because the love of God is priceless.