...and being in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard very precious; and she brake the box, and poured it on his head. And there were some that had indignation within themselves, and said, Why was this waste of the ointment made? For it might have been sold for more than three hundred pence, and have been given to the poor. And they murmured against her. And Jesus said, Let her alone; why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a good work on me. For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always. She hath done what she could: she is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying. Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her (Mk 14:3-9).
The Jewish commemoration of the Passover begins this evening, recalling the time the Israelites escaped slavery in Egypt by marking their doorposts with the blood of a pure lamb so that the spirit of the Lord might pass over their homes in the slaughter of the first-born. The Gospels record that six days before the Passover, Mary lavishly anointed her Lord in anticipation of His burial. Christ commends her for the deed, saying: “Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her” (Mk 14:9).
As Jews come together around the Seder, Christians gather to watch Eastenders [A British Television Show] : Holy Monday is indistinguishable from last Monday, or the Monday before that. But today is day for reflecting on the greatest anointing of all - that of the Holy Spirit. Mary's worship at the feet of Jesus was audacious and extravagant, but it was an act of faith and love: all she wanted to do was worship in her own way, which the disciples met with protestation and indignation. It's a woman, you see. And not just a woman, but a mightily-sinning one.
And yet this woman's actions and expressions teach the men a thing or two. She understands and apprehends on a different spiritual plane. They see the perfume and immediately think about the cost and absurd waste; she gently caresses her Lord's ankles and toes, anoints them with a spiced aroma, and smells the scent of salvation. They want action; their mission is to feed the poor. She wants reflection; her heart's desire is to worship.
And so the Christ, the Messiah, is anointed not by prophets or priests, but by but by a prostitute. And that is fitting in this revolutionary kingdom of God. But we easily forget this woman. Jesus said: "Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her." But she invariably gets lost somewhere between the palm leaves and Eastenders.
Holy Monday is also frequently linked to the Lord’s cleansing of the Temple which had become a den of thieves. The House of God, supposedly a place set aside for meditation and prayer, had become a place of hypocrisy, insincerity, greed and lust. Nothing really changes.
Christians are called to be living sacrifice; to worship God daily in their actions and their words. This is becoming increasingly difficult in a context of increasing secularisation confronted by a compromised church. But the witness of our extravagant devotion to the Lord is wholly dependent upon the purity and honesty of our lives: and that must be marked by humility and love, not by aggressive demands for rights or assertions of pride.
Let Caesar collect his taxes and make his laws: it is for Christians to cleanse our temple and devote ourselves lavishly to the Lord, that we may find peace, joy and happiness.