The Gift

A Meditation for the Monday in Holy Week

25 March 2013

'It's so she might keep it for the day of my burial' -- so Jesus rebukes Judas when he tries to reduce the prophetic gesture by Mary of Bethany to a simple matter of dollars and cents. Here we are, almost a week before Jesus' crucifixion, and one of his disciples -- more perceptive than the rest, more attuned perhaps to Jesus' mind -- is already preparing for his burial. Her foreshadowing brings with it a precious gift: the nard with which she annoints him is worth 300 times the wage for a day's labour. But it is only a symbol here, a token of her even more precious love for Jesus.

Jesus is about to begin the last lap of his journey, which he had made and was continuing to make in love and obedience to his Father. Truly he shows himself to be the Father's chosen servant, as Isaiah describes. To turn now from the Father's way would betray not just that love and obedience but it would also betray Jesus' own self and mar the wholeness and integrity that make him a covenant to the people and a light to the nations.

Mary of Bethany, conscious of this fidelity and love in Jesus, knows how it will all end. That is, she knows that to walk with God is to walk in opposition with all the forces that desire to rule this world without God: the forces of greed, of oppression, of exploitation. When a person goes up against these forces, the forces usually win, or so it appears. So Mary senses that Jesus will die soon and she makes her gift to him, the gift of her love.

We ourselves have now walked the road of Lent for many weeks, practising the disciplines of prayer and self-denial, teaching ourselves to turn to God's way and not the world's way. We have tried to root out in ourselves the habits of mind and body that could put us on the the path of greed, oppression, and exploitation and cultivate those that can put us on the path of self-giving and obedience, the path of Jesus, and of his disciples like Mary of Bethany. We have been striving to be part of the new covenant that the epistle to the Hebrews speaks of, that Jesus is uniquely empowered to make us sharers in, a covenant of redemption from our sins.

Now as Holy Week begins we are standing in much the same place that she stood, because we too are preparing for his burial. Starting yesterday with palms and shouts of praise we begin to walk with Jesus for his final week on earth, knowing that his way ends in a cross on Calvary's hill. We have the great advantage over Mary that we know that the cross is not the end. She had faith as they all did in God's vindication of his servant, but we have knowledge, knowledge of Easter Morning as well as Friday afternoon. Jesus' life led to the cross, but the cross leads to the empty tomb and the resurrection morning.

But what have we prepared for the day of his burial? What gift do we bring as Mary brought her pound of costly nard, symbol of her love? May God send us the courage and the love to do as she did, and bring him all that we have. Amen.