Isaiah 42:1-9, Psalm 36:5-11, Hebrews 9:11-15, John 12:1-11
A Homily preached by Rev. John Warner
“Dead man walking, dead man walking here!” “Dead Man Walking” is the title of a book by Sister Helen Prejean, a Roman Catholic nun which was adapted into a movie starring Susan Sarandan and Sean Penn. The title of the book is derived from the traditional call shouted by a prison guard as the condemned prisoner is led from Death Row to his execution. “Dead man walking, dead man walking here!” After yesterday’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem, Jesus now finds himself a dead man walking—living out his final week on Earth.
Today Jesus is at the home of Lazarus, Martha and Mary for dinner. We do not know how many of Jesus’ disciples were with him, but we do know that Judas was a guest. While the men were seated at the table and Martha was serving her guests, Mary takes a pound of nard, an amount worth three hundred denarii, a value equivalent to one year’s wages for the average worker in that time, and anoints Jesus’ feet with it.
Judas is the first to question the sanity of using this fragrant and expensive perfume for Jesus’ feet and not sold to benefit a great number of the poor. After all, this excessive luxury for one man would appear contrary to the ethos of Jesus’ ministry.
Jesus tells Judas to leave Mary alone. “She brought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
Jesus’ response indicates that Mary has her priorities straight. Mary answers the calling from God at that moment by responding to Jesus in preparation for his death. Judas has missed the point. It isn’t the nard. The point is that Mary is giving it to Jesus. It isn’t what or how much, it is how it is given. Mary’s physical action of love demonstrates what is truly important in her life: to give of her best from her heart in selfless giving to her Lord. As we approach the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, ask yourself, “Am I pouring myself wholeheartedly without hesitation to God? In which ways am I holding back my gifts to His service? Like Judas, what excuses do I give to explain what I believe I should be doing?
Mary’s extravagant action today challenges us on several levels. How does her action challenge you?