Image: Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Paulatuk
Is 42.1-7 | Ps 27 | Jn 12.1-11
The “Servant songs“, in the book of the prophet Isaiah describe a person (or group of people) who have been chosen by God to faithfully bring about justice without tiring even though the personal cost is high. The characteristics of the servant are that of humility, fairness and obedience. In the Jewish tradition the suffering servant was typically considered a reference to the people of Israel who had suffered great persecution but had been chosen by God to establish a just and peaceful society in the land which God had promised them. Christians, on the other hand, see the person of the servant as a foreshadowing of the person of Jesus who embodies God’s peaceful reign on earth while undergoing unimaginable torment on the road to Calvary.
Our Gospel today invites us to look in a different direction, toward Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha. It was Mary who had stood before Jesus and had chastised him for his lateness, “Lord if you had been here my brother would not have died.” It was Mary’s intervention that moved Jesus first to anger and then to tears as he wept over the body of his friend before restoring him to life. Mary exhibits the characteristics of the suffering servant who is a figure of strength and conviction and who will not bend in the wind or be intimidated even when it comes to pleading the cause of justice before God.
The strength of character found in the servant, however, is not stained by pride or haughtiness. Mary shows profound gratitude first by honouring Jesus as she anoints his feet with the precious nard and then with sincere humility as she kneels and dries his feet with her own hair. Mary’s act of servant-hood cannot be missed. Its powerful message courses throughout the crowd on the fragrant waves of perfume that fill the air. There is no one watching this unfolding scene who cannot be moved by what is taking place. The community has been restored by the re-birth of Lazarus and the glory belongs entirely to God.
Compare Mary’s actions to that of Judas Iscariot. Judas is not chosen, but takes it upon himself to be the group spokesperson. He undermines Mary’s priceless gift to Jesus by appealing to economics but, underneath, his true motivation is greed. Mary’s selfless act is a powerful symbol of reverence and awe in the face of the divine. Judas’s words are shallow, self-serving and base.
When we consider the actions of Mary and those of Judas, which characteristics do we see most often at work in the world? Which actions would serve to make a better world?
Jesus’ words to Judas remind us that the justice that God offers to the world is not superficial. “You will always have the poor with you”. To dismiss God because life is hard and things are not perfect is too simplistic an approach. Mary’s gift reminds us to look deeper, to become aware of the many ways that God is present in the world and how he is calling each one of us to become his servant, faithfully working for justice and peace, persevering even when it is difficult.