Homily: Mass: Monday of Holy Week, 2018

Mass: Monday of Holy Week

Isa 42:1-7; Ps 27:1-14; John 12:1-11

Today we have the first of four songs of the servant of God from Isaiah. It is a beautiful description of a mysterious servant of God which the Church has long realised applies so aptly to Jesus.

The passage speaks of gentleness and non-violence, a message so necessary for our time. Gentle, but not weak or passive. “He does not cry out or raise his voice.” He is a bringer of harmony and peace, not of noise and turmoil.

“He does not break the crushed reed or snuff the faltering wick.” He does not exploit the weak in a false show of power but empowers through bringing healing and wholeness to the frail and the weak. Just what Jesus did in his mission to the people.

“He will not grow faint, he will not be crushed, until true justice is established on earth.” In his gentleness and compassion, there is no weakness. There is a great inner strength, but a total rejection of violence.

This Servant has been called by God, the creator of all things, to do God’s work and carry out his will. He will be “a light of the nations” and will “open the eyes of the blind, free captives from prison and those who live in darkness from the dungeon”. Originally, this referred to release from the prison of the Babylonian exile, but it also indicates the hope of liberation for every person from all spiritual and moral bondage.

As we begin Holy Week, we are reminded that this work of God’s servant, which we also are, has to go on through us. We are not here this week just to be spectators, even grateful spectators. We are to be part of the work, which the Paschal Mystery inaugurated. We, too, are to be servants, ready, if necessary, to suffer as Jesus did for the sake of our brothers and sisters.

Then today’s Gospel serves as a lovely prelude to the Passion of Jesus. The soldiers were looking for Jesus; they wanted to kill Him, but even now, Mary, Martha and Lazarus received Him in their house and offered Him something to eat. Because love overcomes fear.

Jesus is back in the house of his friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus, recently brought back from the dead. Perhaps these are his last moments of companionship before the horrors that are to come.

True to character, Martha is the active hostess. Mary, the contemplative, brings in a jar of an expensive perfumed unguent and pours it all over the feet of Jesus, filling the house with its fragrance. Mary does not speak during this whole episode. She only acts. The gesture filled with symbolism speaks for itself. In washing the feet, Mary becomes a servant. Jesus will repeat the gesture at the Last Supper. It is a sign of great love and echoes what the “sinful” woman in Luke’s gospel also did.

While the “Beloved Disciple” is a nameless character in St John’s gospel, he can be matched by this beloved disciple. Judas, the spiritually blind materialist, only sees what he regards as terrible waste. Hypocritically he suggests the money would have been better spent helping the poor. John suggests Judas was more interested in getting the money for himself than sharing it with those in need.

Jesus sees an altogether different meaning in Mary’s action. He sees the tremendous love behind the action and interprets it as a symbolical anointing for his burial. Dying as a common criminal, Jesus would normally not have been anointed. (And, in fact, he was not anointed after his burial; when the women went to do the act on Sunday morning, Jesus was already risen.)

“You have the poor with you always; you will not always have me.” This is not to be understood any cynical way. “As often as you do it to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you do it to me.” Only those who truly love God (whatever name they call him) are able truly to love the poor and all those in need. And vice versa. Also, in Jewish tradition there was disagreement as to whether giving alms to the poor or burying the dead (which would include anointing) was the greater act of mercy. Those in favour of burial thought it an essential condition for sharing in the final resurrection.

Finally, we are told Lazarus’ own life is in danger as well as Jesus’. To be the friend of Jesus could be dangerous. Lazarus is in danger of death because of the new life received from Jesus. The Jews had decided to kill Him. Lazarus alive was a living proof that Jesus was the Messiah. This is why the crowd was looking for Him, because people wanted to experience closely the living proof of the power of Jesus. We can see how at times a living community runs the risk of its life because it is the living proof of the Good News of God!

Mary and Judas contrast true and false discipleship, as well as true and false love. Lazarus is seen as the living sign of Jesus’ divine power and so they both must be wiped out. Many of the Church’s martyrs died for the same reason. The word ‘martyr’ means ‘witness’, witnessing to the truth, love and power of Christ.

Am I willing to be a martyr-witness for Christ, to stand beside him on the cross, as he is mocked and insulted? This is the week for me to find the answer to that question.



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