Six days before Passover Jesus came to Bethany,
where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.
They gave a dinner for him there, and Martha served,
while Lazarus was one of those reclining at table with him.
Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil
made from genuine aromatic nard
and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair;
the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. – John 12. 1 – 3
Yesterday’s celebration of Palm Sunday marks the entrance of our Holy Week journey – the final phase of Lent. The celebration of the Lord’s entrance into Jerusalem is quickly followed up in the lectionary today with a pungent reminder of how quickly celebration will turn to passion, and passion to lament.
Mary feels the encroaching Lenten lament. She marks this passage into Holy Week with a devotional act. The anointing falls in the category of pure love, but it also connects with the symbolism of priestly anointings prior to their liturgical and sacrificial service on behalf of the people.
The Latin root for the English word Passion is passio, which has more to do with passivity than activity. When we hear the word Passion, we often think of Jesus’ active surrender to the sufferings of Good Friday – his scourging, his crucifixion, his death. But really, the passion begins with Jesus’ passivity: his willingness to be anointed. His consent to participate in his final Passover with his friends. His acceptance of his arrest. His non-resistance when beaten. His passivity to be crucified. This passivity is the the heart of the spiritual passion of Holy Week.
Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem and the anointing of Mary are external markers of his inward disposition of consent. He shows us the way of passivity in a world addicted to activity. He shows us just how much things are happening in the only way they can. And how wise it is to not get identified with the passing events – even if they lead to outcomes not at first understood or even desired. Something larger is unfolding through our consent to be led versus taking control of our destiny on our own terms.
Mary’s anointing conveys the heart of contemplative devotion. To give love from an over flowing love. The expensive perfume is a symbol of love – a love that accumulates in the silence and stillness of prayer. A love that can overflow through us toward the world – a world full of beings that need to be anointed with love so to remember and realize their unique destiny and ultimate joy in worship – as ones set apart for the love of and passivity to the Spirit of God, which is in part our most real joy and enduring purpose in this life.
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