And why was not that ointment sold for 300 Denarii? Why was not the proceeds from the sale of the ointment given to the relief of the poor? After all, did not our Lord himself instruct his disciples on the way in which they should work towards the alleviation of human suffering? And wasn’t there that pesky parable of the kingdom in Matthew 25? Surely you remember that one. That’s the one in which our Lord reminded us that in so far as we showed some act of charity to the least of these his brethren, we have done it to him. Did we give them drink? Did we give them food? Did we clothe them? Did we comfort them? Did we show compassion for them?
And in that parable, of course the Blessed who are the ones who noticed the condition of the poor. They are welcomed into the kingdom of God’s glory. But the people who turned a blind eye to the basic suffering of the human condition are turned away from the kingdom and condemned. So it seems to me to be a fair question to ask why was not this ointment sold for the 300 Denarii.
It’s surely no crime to be a pragmatic. And, most of us are. We pride ourselves that we may have been born in the morning, but not this morning. Most of us have reached a certain point in life where we celebrate that we have been around the block a few times. And, if it cannot be said of us that we have true wisdom, it can be said of most of us that we have at least an equally priceless commodity known as common sense.
But, here’s the catch. One of the things that today’s gospel reminds us is that common sense and pragmatism can sometimes get in the way. Sometimes our pragmatism is such that it cuts out the possibility for hearing and responding to the call of God.
How true this is in the estate of our prayer lives. There’s always something more to be done. We may set aside an hour for worship on Sunday, but the rest of the week it can be a challenge to find any time for prayer whatsoever. Now lest any of you think I’m being too harsh, let me make it clear that I face the same challenges as do the rest of you. Being a priest does not magically make it easy to find time for prayer.
Being a priest does remind one, however, that one has to be disciplined about living a life of prayer or else that life of prayer will go by the wayside. So most of us, when we set aside time for prayer, find ourselves immediately set upon by the million and one other things that we could be doing. We are left with this idea that somehow or another that if we’re spending time praying we’re really not getting anything done.
It is fairly easy to forget the admonition from elsewhere in the Gospel when our Lord asks the question, “What does it profit if you gain the whole world but lose yourself in the process?” So most of us at least face the
temptation to go about the losing of our souls; not for indolence, not for the enjoyment of wealth; not for laziness; but in the process of going about facing the busyness of life we have the real danger of losing them nonetheless.
Pragmatism is a great gift; but it can also be the enemy of the soul.
A case in point: Facebook is very popular in our present culture. It can be a very practical way to get the word out to a wide variety of people that you know. All you have to do is post, and your post is sent out to all your contacts on your friend list. And pretty soon your post can be forwarded to friends of friends, and fairly soon you have broadcast news of something—- say your birthday party—- to a whole bunch of people.
But here’s one downside. Why bother with individual friendships? Why bother with human contact? Certainly it is much simpler to send a post to Facebook so that you can share very personally, meaningfully, and deeply with you and your 5000 dearest friends. You’re getting the word out rapidly and efficiently, and you didn’t have to take the time to try to talk to any of them individually. Now if that is not gaining the whole world but losing your soul in the process, I’m not sure what it is.
At the very least this Gospel reminds us of the importance of being caring and compassionate in relationships. It also reminds us of the importance of being grateful—- as presumably the dinner given by Mary and Martha was a means of thanking our Lord for the gift of their brother back, after our Lord called him back from the dead. (Which is in John chapter 11).
But there is a way in which Mary’s act parallels and foreshadows the death of our Lord Jesus. She has taken upon herself the form of a servant. Our Lord emphasized that he came as a servant– one to serve, and not to be served. Mary takes the precious ointment and pours it out on the feet of Jesus; not only does that mirror our Lord’s washing of the disciples’ feet at the last supper, and his command that we wash one another’s feet, but it also reminds us how our Lord pours out his precious blood for your sake.
Mary’s actions are costly because the nard is expensive; our Lord’s actions are costly because the outpouring of his blood is the ointment—- the salve—- the medicine for the sin of the world. Mary has given the most precious thing she possesses to our Lord; our Lord gives up his life for us.
In anointing our Lord’s feet with the nard, Mary is essentially proclaiming him as a king, as the Messiah; yet in but a few days, our Lord will stand before Pilate and remind him that his kingship is not of this world, but that His kingdom is not far from hence. With this nard, Mary anoints Jesus as the Messiah; with His blood, Jesus anoints us as kings and priests in the service of God.