Today’s gospel lesson from John 12:1-8 shows Mary anointing Jesus with costly ointment six days before his crucifixion. The title Christ means anointed. And the fact that every Gospel shows a woman anointing Jesus prior to his crucifixion, and Jesus himself defending her authority to do so, may tell us the early church stood in uniquivocal solidarity around the equal authority of women in the church. Sadly, as we know, the authority and equal treatment of women continues to be challenged, the witness of our Lord notwithstanding.
The gospel also raises the question of how the church should understand and respond to poverty. Sadly, the poor are often politicized and even used to manipulate us into acts of charity that end up enriching those who manage the money more than the poor themselves. Judas uses this tactic when he criticizes Mary for wasting money on this costly perfume rather than giving it to him for the relief of the poor.
Just as sadly, sometimes Jesus’ response – you always have the poor with you – is sometimes used suggest we are justified in pouring resources into worship vestments, architecture, and fixtures to honor Christ rather than responding to the needs of the poor. But this isn’t what Jesus means. Jesus is calling all of us to eradicate poverty by properly honoring the image of God that belongs to every human being starting with him, the true image of God and man. If we treated each person as Christ, (see Matthew 25) we would eradicate poverty through true charity, compassion, and equality. After all, poverty is not the problem, the problem is the way we harden our hearts against the poor in order to protect our wealth and power, rather than realizing the power of wealth to extend compassion, healing, and justice.
Today’s gospel confronts stark differences between the world as it is – a place where women and the poor aren often denied the honor due to them as children of God, and the world as it should be – a place where all people are richly anointed because we share in the image of God. The answer to this is a new creation – one that begins when the old one is put to death on the cross, and springs to new life through the Holy spirit, a creation in which the same woman who anointed Jesus will become his first witness, and in which true wealth is derived from the power of the Holy Spirit, not through force of arms and money and the politics of division.