Commentaries on Holy Week | Monday
Yesterday we recalled Christ’s triumphal entrance into Jerusalem. A great crowd of his disciples and other persons acclaimed him as the Messiah and King of Israel. At the end of the day, exhausted, he returned to Bethany, a village close to the capital, where he was accustomed to stay on his visits to Jerusalem.
A family of friends living there always had a place for him and his companions. Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead, is the head of the family. With him live his sisters Martha and Mary, who fondly await the Master’s arrival, happy to be able to serve him.
In the last days of his life on earth, Jesus spent long hours in Jerusalem preaching intensely. In the evening, he recovered his strength in the home of his friends. And in Bethany there took place an episode described in the Gospel of today’s Mass.
Six days before the Passover, St. John tells us, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. There they made him a supper; Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at table with him. Mary took a pound of costly ointment of pure nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair, and the house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment.
SHE SPARED NO EXPENSE
We immediately see the generosity of this woman. She wanted to show her gratitude to the Master for having restored her brother to life, and for so many other gifts they had received. And she spared no expense. Judas, present at the supper, carefully calculated the price of the perfume. Instead of praising Mary’s refinement, he voiced a criticism: “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” In reality, as St. John notes, he was not concerned about the poor. His interest was in handling the money of the common purse, and stealing from it.
“But Jesus own reaction is completely different,” writes John Paul II. “While in no way detracting from the duty of charity towards the needy, for whom the disciples must always show special care—the poor you will always have with you (Mt 26, 11; Mk14:7; cf. Jn 12:8)—he looks towards his imminent death and burial, and sees this act of anointing as an anticipation of the honor which his body will continue to merit even after his death, indissolubly bound as it is to the mystery of his person” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 47).
GOD HOLDS FIRST PLACE
To be a true virtue, charity has to be ordered. And God holds first place: You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like unto it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself.
On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the prophets. Therefore, it is a mistake to overlook the needs of the Church and her sacred ministers, using as an excuse the desire to alleviate the material needs of men. As St. Josemaría writes:
“That woman in the house of Simon the leper in Bethany, who anoints the Master’s head with precious ointment, reminds us of our duty to be generous in the worship of God.
—All beauty, richness and majesty seem little to me. —And against those who attack the richness of sacred vessels, of vestments and altars, stands the praise given by Jesus: opus enim bonum operata est in me—she has acted well towards me.”
LOVE FOR GOD AND LOVE FOR NEIGHBOR
How many people act like Judas. They see the good that others are doing, but they don’t want to acknowledge it. They try to find twisted intentions, to criticize, to gossip, to make rash judgments. They reduce charity to the purely material—giving a few coins to the needy, perhaps to quiet their conscience—forgetting that, as St. Josemaria also wrote, “Christian charity cannot be limited to giving things or money to the needy. It seeks, above all, to respect and understand each person for what he is, in his intrinsic dignity as a man and child of God.”
The Virgin Mary dedicated herself completely to our Lord, and was always concerned about the needs of those around her. Today we ask her to intercede for us, so that, in our own lives, love for God and love for neighbor will merge into a single reality, like the two sides of a coin.
Commentaries on Holy Week were originally broadcast by the EWTN Radio Network (April 4-11, 2004). Reprinted here with permission.
Most Rev. Javier Echevarria was the second successor of St. Josemaria Escriva as head of Opus Dei from 1994-2016. He worked closely with St. Josemaria Escriva as his personal secretary from 1953 until St. Josemaria’s death in 1975. Bishop Echevarria was ordained as a priest on August 7, 1955. He was elected and appointed by John Paul II as prelate of Opus Dei on April 20, 1994. The Pope ordained him as a bishop on January 6, 1995. Bishop Echevarria died in Rome on December 12, 2016.