“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.” – Jn. 12:3
Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha and Lazarus, is one of the most beautiful characters in the New Testament. In Luke’s Gospel, she was the sister who sat by Jesus’s feet listening intently to his words while Martha was busy with hosting duties and complained Mary was not helping her. In today’s Gospel, John describes Mary as anointing Jesus’s feet with so much perfume that the fragrance filled the house and humbly wiping his feet with her hair. These two stories give us a glimpse to how much she loved Jesus as to becoming totally present to him and lavishly ministering to him. Because of her single-minded devotion to Christ, she may be considered among the first Christian contemplatives.
As we enter Holy Week assessing how we lived out Lent this year preparing for the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we may have found some of our promises and devotions lacking the enthusiasm it had during the start of Lent. Our intentions were undoubtedly well-meaning, but life distractions and weariness may have disrupted our plans. But it was precisely OUR plans – our plans to pray more, to volunteer more, to give up sweets, to give up Facebook, to be in solidarity more with the poor however it may have looked like. I look at the ashes of my own Lenten plans and notice how it may have been a subtle form of navel-gazing.
Mary of Bethany provides us a beautifully simple model of preparing for the Paschal Mystery – not only the Paschal Mystery of Jesus, but also the ones we experience daily – our daily toils, death, and rebirth however big or small it takes shape. Holy Week is an opportunity to perhaps reinvigorate our Lenten commitments, but it may also be an invitation to set aside whatever Herculean acts of sacrifice that allows us to be proud of ourselves and simply be present to Jesus as Mary of Bethany was during his final days. Beyond Holy Week, each of us may be called to different acts of sacrifices and services, but all of us are called to a love of Jesus that resembles Mary’s simple way. God does not long for our extreme sacrifices. God longs for our hearts.
Lord Jesus Christ, may the example and intercession of Mary of Bethany help us to be with you beyond ourselves.