Monday of Holy Week
The dinner of Bethany
Six days before Passover Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. They gave a dinner for him there, and Martha served, while Lazarus was one of those reclining at table with him. 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; the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. Then Judas the Iscariot, … the one who would betray him, said, “Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages and given to the poor?” He said this not because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief and held the money bag and used to steal the contributions. So Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Let her keep this for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” Jn 12,1-8
The week of the Passion started. The sanhedrin has already decided the death of Jesus, who tomorrow will make his entry into Jerusalem. Today, however, he goes to Bethany to visit these friends, who prepare a dinner in his honor. It is a sign that he is already entered in the poverty of the cross, he is no longer giving, now he is the one who receives. At one point of the party, a woman, that the Gospel of John identifies as Mary, the sister of Lazarus – while Mark and Matthew in their gospels do not give her a name, anoints the Jesus feet by perfume and dries it by her hair. It is the recognition of his lordship. This woman of Bethany enlightens us on what our way of faith in this week should be, during which we ask the grace to acknowledge, as Lord, that Jesus of Nazareth who is going on the cross to free us from our sins. That scent sprinkled on his feet will be as if it would have been scattered by us. Judas, who did not understand the supreme gift which the Master is about to do, believes that it is wasted money and he argues that it would be better to sell it and to give the proceeds to the poor, of which, in reality, he cares very little: attitude widespread also in our days. It is at this point that Jesus announces an absolute truth, followed by another which is an only relative one: “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me”. The first part of this statement is a complete truth, because it is true that the poor will always be with us. The second refers only to his physical presence. At the end of Gospel of Matthew, in fact, he will say: “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28,20) and where can he be with us if not where the poor always will be? Jesus, while he goes to die on the cross as a poor, announces that the poor will always be with us and that he too will always be with us. There are three aspects of one great truth which this week we are called to internalize: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you have given drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared me, in prison and you visited me” (Mt 25,35-36).