Lectio Divina: John 12:1-11
Season of Lent
1) Opening prayer
Lord our God,
You have called Your people
to be the servants of one another
in the cause of justice and mercy. You showed us in Jesus, Your Son,
what it means to serve
and how much this may cost us.
Fill us with the Spirit of Jesus,
that we too may not break those who are weak
nor repel those groping in the dark.
Let Him teach us to serve and to love
with compassion for the helpless
and respect for the least and the poorest,
together with Jesus Christ our Lord.
2) Gospel Reading - John 12:1-11
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 spikenard 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, one of his disciples, and 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." The large crowd of the Jews found out that he was there and came, not only because of him, but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. And the chief priests plotted to kill Lazarus too, because many of the Jews were turning away and believing in Jesus because of him.
• We have entered into Holy Week, the week of the Passover of Jesus, of His passing from this world to the Father (Jn 13:1). Liturgy today places before us the beginning of chapter 12 of the Gospel of John, which serves as a link between the Book of the Signs (cc 1-11) and the Book of the Glorification (cc 13-21). At the end of the “Book of Signs” there appears, very clearly, the tension between Jesus and the religious authority of the time (Jn 10:19-21.39) and the danger which Jesus was facing. Several times they had tried to kill Him (Jn 10:31; 11:8. 53; 12,:10). It was such that Jesus was obliged to lead a clandestine life, because He could be arrested at any moment (Jn 10:40; 11:54).
• John 12:1-2: Jesus persecuted by the Jews, goes to Bethany. Six days before the Passover, Jesus went to Bethany to the house of His friends Martha and Mary and of Lazarus. Bethany means, House of Poverty. The police were looking for Him (Jn 11:57). They wanted to kill Him (Jn 11:50). But even now that the police were looking for Jesus, Mary, Martha and Lazarus received Him in their house and offered Him something to eat. Because love overcomes fear.
• John 12:3: Mary anoints Jesus. During the meal, Mary anoints the feet of Jesus with a pound of perfume of pure spikenard (cf. Lk 7:36-50). It was a very costly perfume, so very expensive that it cost three hundred denarii. Then she dried His feet with her hair. The whole house was filled with the scent of the ointment. 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 (Jn 13:5).
• John 12:4-6: Reaction of Judas. Judas criticizes the gesture of Mary. He thinks that it is a waste. In fact, three hundred denarii were the wages of three hundred days! The wages of almost a whole year spent in one time alone! Judas thinks that the money should have been given to the poor. The Evangelist comments and says that Judas had no concern at all for the poor, but that he was a thief. They had a common fund and he stole the money. A strong judgment which condemns Judas. It does not condemn the concern for the poor, but the hypocrisy which uses the poor for self promotion and to enrich oneself. Judas, in his own egoistic interests, thought only about money. This is why he was not aware of what Mary kept in her heart. Jesus reads the heart and defends Mary.
• John 12:7-8: Jesus defends the woman, Judas thinks only of the waste and criticizes the woman. Jesus thinks of the gesture and defends the woman: “Leave her alone; so that she can keep it for the day of My burial!” And immediately Jesus says: “You have the poor with you always; you will not always have Me!” Which of the two lived closer to Jesus: Judas or Mary? Judas, the disciple, lived together with Jesus for almost three years, twenty-four hours a day. He was part of the group. Mary saw Him once or twice a year, on the occasion of some feast, when Jesus went to Jerusalem and visited her in her house. But to live together with, not having any love does not help us to know others. Rather it blinds people. Judas was blind. Many people live together with Jesus and praise Him even with many hymns, but do not truly know Him and do not reveal Him (cf. Mt 7:21). Two affirmations of Jesus merit a more detailed comment: (a) “You have the poor with you always” and (b) “let her keep it for the day of My burial”.
(a) “You have the poor with you always “. Is it perhaps that Jesus wants to say that we should not be concerned about the poor, given the fact that there will always be poor? Or does He want to say that poverty is the destiny imposed by God? How is this phrase to be understood? At that time, people knew the Old Testament by heart. It sufficed for Jesus to begin quoting a phrase of the Old Testament and persons already knew the rest. The beginning of the phrase said: “There will never cease to be poor people in the country” (Dt 15:11ª). The rest of the phrase which people already knew and which Jesus wants to remind is the following: “And this is why I am giving you this command: always be open handed with your brother, and with anyone in your country who is in need and is poor!” (Dt 15:11b). According to this Law, the community should accept the poor and share its goods with them. But, Judas instead of “opening his hand to help the poor” and to share his goods with them, wanted to do charity with the money of others! He wanted to sell the perfume of Mary for three hundred denarii and use it to help the poor. Jesus quotes the Law of God which taught the contrary. Anyone, who like Judas, carries out a campaign with the money from the sale of the goods of another, does not disturb or trouble. But, the one who, like Jesus, insists on the obligation to accept the poor and to share with them one’s own goods, this one disturbs, troubles and runs the risk of being condemned.
(b) John 12:9-11: The crowds and the authority. 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. A living community runs the risk of its life because it is the living proof of the Good News of God!
4) Personal questions
• Mary was misinterpreted by Judas. Have you been misinterpreted sometimes?
• Do I actually serve the poor, or do I just share the goods of others?
• Are lavish expenses on church buildings and decorations a case of worshiping Jesus as Mary did, or is taking from the poor?
5) Concluding Prayer
Yahweh is my light and my salvation,
whom should I fear?
Yahweh is the fortress of my life,
whom should I dread? (Ps 27:1)