We are at the beginning of Holy Week which invites us to ponder and reflect on the final journey of Jesus.
Most of the people Jesus encountered on that final journey were hostile to him. Yet, according to today’s Gospel, six days before the feast of Passover during which Jesus was crucified, he experienced great kindness. Not only is he the guest at the table of a family that he loves, one member of that family, Mary, went to great expense to render him a very thoughtful service. She anointed his feet with very expensive perfume and dried them with her hair.
Nard is a class of aromatic, amber-coloured essential oil derived from a flowering plant in the honeysuckle family which grows in the Himalayas of Nepal, China, and India. the plant grows to about one meter in height and has small, pink, bell-shaped flowers. It is found at an altitude of about 3,000m to 5,000m.
A little later in the same gospel, Jesus will wash the feet of his disciples. It’s as if Mary, the sister of Lazarus, anticipated that servant-gesture of Jesus himself. She gives herself to Jesus in a loving service that corresponds to how Jesus gives himself to his disciples, and to all of us.
These two strands are at the core of Holy Week. The cross and the Nard – the suffering and the joy, joy that Jesus comes to participate in all human suffering. And the strand of loving care that is at the very core of the suffering is to stay with us.
Jesus interprets her generous act as preparing him for his death and burial. At the beginning of the last week of his life, Our Lord welcomed this act of kindness from Mary of Bethany. What that woman did for Jesus we are called to do for each other.
On our own life journey, we may meet people who make our journey more difficult. We will also experience people like Mary who support us on our journey, and, hopefully, we can be for others what Mary was for Jesus, a kindly and generous presence in an often hostile world.
Sean Cassin OFM