Daily Reflection
March 29th, 1999
David Schultenover, S.J.
Isaiah 42:1-7
John 12:1-11

"Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one . . . upon whom I have put my spirit....  I, the Lord, have called you [my people] for the victory of justice, . . . I formed you and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness."

Yesterday, Palm Sunday, we entered with Jesus upon the final week of his earthly life.  Today we read from John's gospel the beginning of what scholars call the Book of Glory. This designation catches the irony that runs throughout John, from the first of the seven "signs" (when Jesus reminds his importuning mother that "my hour has not yet come," nevertheless changes water into wine in anticipation of that hour) to the last sign (the raising of Lazarus): the hour for which Jesus longs is the hour simultaneously of his defeat and victory, of his death and rising to the fullness of life, the hour when death means return to his Father to send his Spirit. In giving us this reading today, the Church wants us to enter Holy Week with the same ironic perspective.  With John's Jesus, we know the outcome from the beginning.  We never see the cross as defeat but as an instrument and emblem of glory.  Thus the "defeat" of wine at Cana is the signal for Jesus to bring forth in abundance new spirit from the waters of ordinary life that ends in death, a sign that anticipates the flow of blood and water, spirit and life, from Jesus' pierced side in his hour of glory.

And in the seventh sign read yesterday, both Martha and Mary confidently confess, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."  In the dialogue that ensues with Martha, Jesus asks if she believes that he is "the resurrection and the life."  She replies, "Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world" - the very words we hear from Peter in the synoptic gospels in his confession at Caesarea Philippi. Today's pericope is in the same ironic vein, seen particularly in the figures of Mary and Judas.  Those who live in the light know that Mary's gesture is not an anointing for death, but rather is in the line of the ancient Jewish rituals that conferred the offices of priest, prophet, and king, the offices that Jesus would be fulfilling, beginning the next day with his entry into Jerusalem: "Hosanna!  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord - the King of Israel!" (Jn 12:13). It is interesting to note that in each of these pericopes women play the role of calling Jesus to the ministry for which he was sent into this world.

We can each of us think of the persons in our own lives who have "anointed" us, whether literally or figuratively, who have called us to greater life, to assume the roles for which we seemed destined.  Certainly our mothers (less commonly our fathers) have anointed us in both senses. No one has poured more oil on me than my mother, and no one has called me more than my mother has to assume the role for which I seemed born. But perhaps we can recall special moments, analogous to Mary's anointing of Jesus, when she was calling him to reign through his death.  I recall three times during my childhood when I was sick or injured enough to warrant time in the hospital, where my mother happened to be the night superintendent.  Having to share my mother's attention with nine siblings, household duties, and full time employment, none of us kids ever got much undivided attention from Mom.  But when I was in the hospital I had her for myself.  Ironically those were the most blessed moments of my young life, when I experienced undivided tenderness that ordinary healthy living didn't allow.  When I was sick or injured unto death, she called me to life, to assume the role for which I was born, with a confidence that comes of knowing a parent's unconditional, tender love.

So Jesus reprimands Judas, whose acquisitiveness blinded him - not unlike his chiding of Martha in Luke's gospel for complaining about Mary's sitting at Jesus' feet instead of helping her with the chores of hospitality. "Leave her alone.  Let her keep [this nard] for the day they prepare me for burial.  The poor you always have with you, but me you will not always have." Let us enter into this scene, identifying with Mary in her tender mercy, compassionating Jesus, yet calling him to be for us priest, prophet, and king while also being what he was to Mary, Martha, and Lazarus - dearest friend.

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