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. John 12:3
There are two stories about Mary of Bethany at the feet of Jesus. In the first story from the Gospel of Luke chapter 10 we see Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus while Martha scurries around preparing the meal. We see Jesus correct Martha in this story telling her that Mary has chosen the better part. We know from this that adoring Jesus should be primary, above all the distractions of the world. When we keep our eyes on Jesus, when we pray and adore, our work flows from that.
But in today’s Gospel, the story of Mary anointing the feet of Jesus, we see something even more about adoring Jesus. Mary of Bethany is willing to give her most expensive perfume to anoint Jesus. She is willing to in essence make a fool of herself in adoration of Him. She gives him her all because she knows he can take her sin and forgive her. And we see her get persecuted by Judas for this. Judas claiming that it should have been sold and given to the poor.
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.) John 12:4-6
We know because the Gospel tells us that Judas is stealing. We know his heart is hard. But have we ever thought about the fact that we could be Judas? This scenario could be applied to almost any group today, not just the poor, but any marginalized group that people advocate for. If we aren’t properly ordered towards God in adoration, our advocacy can actually be harmful.
For a moment, I want to apply this story beyond helping the poor (which we should most definitely be doing.) I want to apply it more broadly to those we speak of as marginalized. We put labels on groups and we fight for the group we want to fight for. Look at us, we scream, and so the focus actually becomes the wounds of the group, and how they were wronged, rather than on God and how we can walk towards healing.
Don’t get me wrong, we should always reach out to those who are wounded and marginalized. We should help those in poverty, we should help those in sin, we should help those who have faced injustice. But the question becomes, are we helping them to adore Jesus? or are we adoring their wounds and their sin and leaving them sitting in them? Are we leading them towards unforgiveness or towards sin, hindering their healing in our effort to help?
It seems Mary was singular minded. She was focused on Jesus. Though these scenes take place prior to the crucifixion, Mary seems to know interiorly that it is Jesus’ wounds we should adore. Why? Because he takes our wounds off of us and takes them on Himself. His wounds are wounds of true love. His wounds mean our healing. His wounds mean we can be lifted out of poverty and sin. In today’s world I would venture to say that it is spiritual poverty from which we suffer. By focusing on Jesus’ wounds our hearts can become spiritually rich.
When we focus solely on people’s wounds without redirecting them towards Christ and the truth that He taught, it becomes our own wound we adore and our own sin we adore. For some, their own sin blinds them to real love. For others, great empathy can be a hinderance to real love and real help. Saint Catherine of Siena once said, “too great pity is the greatest cruelty.”
In the case of Judas, he was blinded by sin. His heart didn’t want to help the poor at all. He was actually just made uncomfortable by the sight of true adoration. It pricked his sinful conscience. He was worshipping his own sin, his own wounds, to the detriment of his own healing. For Judas he was beyond just the distraction of Martha, he wasn’t looking to be lifted from sin, but to justify it and proclaim his own virtue while doing it. He was sitting in pride judging Mary. His pride would soon turn to despair, a twisted form of pride. The focus for Him was never really Jesus, but always self.
We see this so much today. The term we have come up with for it is virtue signaling. We help a marginalized group, and we judge others as hateful if they adore Christ and want to redirect people to Him. We judge harshly those that actually think Jesus can lift people out of sin. We have in essence gotten it all backwards.
Mary was properly focused and she was persecuted for it. When we focus solely on the wound, we sit and wallow in it without ever healing. We sit in sin and unforgiveness.
The most marginalized group that I can think of is actually the Catholic Saint. If you read their stories they are often mocked, imprisoned, beaten, tortured, and killed. But they are singularly focused on Christ and they know exactly who they are, they are not confused. They are willing to go to the death for Christ because they know that freedom from their chains comes from true love and forgiveness. They know that it isn’t really love if it isn’t grounded in truth. They go to their deaths wanting the salvation of others and walking in complete forgiveness. They, like Mary, adore the true God and give Him their all. It doesn’t make sense to the world. The world sits in worship of their own sin and wounds. But when we see a Saint we know they are different. We know they have chosen the better part.
It is why all things should begin and end in prayer and adoration of the God who loves us. It is His wounds we should adore.
Excellent Holy Week post. A few of my comments on your salient points.
1.) “We know from this that adoring Jesus should be primary, above all the distractions of the world. When we keep our eyes on Jesus, when we pray and adore, our work flows from that.”
a.) Yes, the primacy of Christ in all things, and when we are focused on Christ, it transforms/transfigures our work, which becomes Christ’s work.
2.) “. . . those we speak of as marginalized.”
a.) Marginalized is such a trite term these days, much as “meaningful” was 30 years ago.
b.) What is meant by marginalized? The problem with these terms is that anyone with experience tunes out and does not care because they have heard all of the synonyms ad nauseum over the years: Disadvantaged, power deprived, economically insecure, societally challenged, etc., etc.,
c.) You might have observed in many of these terms that there is a certain (a) pharisaical judgmentalism and (b) the poison of bitterness. This judgmentalism and bitterness cultivates hate, and is Satan’s attempt to distract us from focusing on Christ, who is love. You could almost say that in many cases these terms are a dog and pony show to turn the focus from healing/solving the problem inevitably into wallowing in victimhood/hate.
3.) “We put labels on groups and we fight for the group we want to fight for. Look at us, we scream, and so the focus actually becomes the wounds of the group, and how they were wronged, rather than on God and how we can walk towards healing.”
a.) You do not articulate it, Sue, but what we see is a lack of the virtue of love, and when this virtue of love is centered on Christ, we do not fight, scream or inordinately focus on the wounds in of themselves, but bring healing.
b.) Labels are descriptors. Those who self-identify as marginalized are engaging in self labeling. No wonder the devil chuckles at this irony and angels shake their head.
4.) “When we focus solely on the wound, we sit and wallow in it without ever healing. We sit in sin and unforgiveness.”
a.) And thus, those who do that have created their own earthly hell, and are living a foretaste of hell, Having lived it myself, the key is forgiveness and surrender to Christ. Mary Magdalene lived a life of sin, and then sought and received forgiveness. Following her change of life, she then centered her life on Christ so that the bitter judgmental words from Judas’s venomous mouth had no effect on her.
So, God bless you Sue and your family! A holy, healthy and happy Easter to you and all of your readers!
Well said James. Holy and Happy Easter to you and yours.