Sunday, April 09, 2017

Monday of Holy Week

“St Mary Magdalene” by Carlo Dolci, 1644-46
Reading 1: Isaiah 42:1-7
Commentary on Is 42:1-7
This is the first of the four “Servant of the Lord” oracles from Isaiah. Speaking as the mouth of God, the prophet talks of a renewal of Israel in his time. There are three more passages considered by some to be parts of one poem (Isaiah 49:1-6Isaiah 50:4-7; and Isaiah 52:13—53:12). While there is some scholarly debate about the original intent of these poems, the prophetic view sees in these songs a reference to the coming Messiah.  The servant comes, not as a violent zealot, but humbly, with the quiet power of God (“A bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench”).
In these first strophes of the Song of the Suffering Servant, we see God’s plan to transform the entire world (“…to the nations”) through a messianic leader who will “open the eyes of the blind” and “bring prisoners from confinement.” The descriptive imagery of being a light to the nations and to “…those who live in darkness” is recalled in Luke’s Canticle of Zachariah (Luke 1:68-69), as the infant St. John the Baptist is charged to announce the coming of Christ. It is also echoed in the Canticle of Simeon (Luke 2:32), who sees Isaiah’s "Suffering Servant" in the newborn son of Mary. Also in this first song, Isaiah’s prediction brings us almost the exact words spoken by God as Jesus walks out of the Jordan following his baptism: “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased.” The image of God infusing his spirit is fulfilled as the Holy Spirit descends in the form of a dove at Jesus’ Baptism (Matthew 16:12Mark 1:10Luke 3:22). He goes on in vv. 2-4 to describe the compassionate and loving character of the Messiah.
In the vv. 6-7, Isaiah focuses on the new covenant established with the people. “The expression ‘light to the nations’ (v.6) seems to find an echo in what Jesus says about his being ‘the light of the world’ (John 8:129:5) and also in the Benedictus of Zechariah (Luke 1:78-79). There is an evocation of v.7 in Jesus’ reply to the messengers from John the Baptist who ask him whether he is ‘he who is to come’ (cf. Matthew 11:4-6Luke 7:18-22); […] And so St. Justin will say commenting on vv. 6-7: ‘Everything that is said here, my friends, refers to Christ and to the peoples who have been enlightened by his presence.’ (Dialogus cum Tryphone, 122, 2)” [4]
CCC: Is 42:1-9 713; Is 42:1 536, 555; Is 42:3 580; Is 42:6 580
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 27:1, 2, 3, 13-14
R. (1a) The Lord is my light and my salvation.
Commentary on Ps 27:1, 2, 3,13-14
This section of the psalm is a profession of faith in the salvation that comes only from the Lord God.  This selection is frequently used in Christian funerals because of the hope and encouragement embodied in it.
Gospel: John 12:1-11
Commentary on Jn 12:1-11
In this scene from St. John’s Gospel we are painted a picture of Judas not found in other accounts. John shows him as a greedy and dishonest person. We suspect this understanding of Judas came after his ultimate act of betrayal. At the time it would have seemed like a reasonable question. In St. Mark’s Gospel this event takes place two days before the Passover Feast as opposed to the numerically significant six days mentioned here. The number 6 being the most imperfect number in Hebrew numerology (See Mark 14:1-5).
Jesus again tells the disciples that the time for his trial is at hand as he says to them: “You will always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” The sense of finality is growing as we are also told of the plot to kill Lazarus as well as Jesus in an attempt to stamp out the Lord’s popularity among the people.
CCC: Jn 12:8 2449
We look in awe at the tableau set before us on the first weekday of our Holy Week. In the setting described by St. John we see an encapsulated image of Jesus' ministry on earth.
Jesus is at the house of his good friend Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.  In these familiar surroundings, he is accompanied by the twelve (we assume so because Judas is there, being portrayed as the villain by St. John).  In typical fashion, Martha is doing all the heavy lifting while Mary, her sister, is at the feet of Jesus.  And in the background the Evangelist reminds us of the plots of the Scribes and Pharisees. In this passage they are also planning to kill Lazarus because of his witness to the salvific power of Christ.
We consider each in turn.  First we look at the Lord who now perceives the end of his time among us.  As he reclines at table with his friends, Mary, Lazarus’ sister, brings a very expensive vase of oil and anoints Jesus’ feet, wiping them, we are told, with her hair. This tender act must seem an affront to those with him.  But to Jesus, who senses the cross looming, it is a preparation for his departure (it was traditional among the Hebrews to anoint a body after death in preparation for burial).  He silences Judas, the only one who verbally complains, telling him that there will be plenty of time to serve the poor (“You always have the poor with you”).  In this comment Jesus tells us that while the poor must by ministered to by his followers, his disciples must also draw strength from their adoration of Christ.  How can one feed the poor if their spiritual reservoir is drained?
We consider the sisters, Martha and Mary, Martha the head and Mary the heart.  Martha is assuming her customary role serving the household guests.  We must assume, given our own experience with those who feel obligated to take on the less pleasant duties of hospitality, that she is aware of what is taking place at the table.  She has dropped her customary “attitude.” She tends to treat Jesus like a brother, complaining to him about Mary (John 10:38-41), and chastising him for being late when his brother was ill (dead) John 11:19-28.  She knows about what is coming.  She is the practical one after all.  She may even have given Mary the money to go buy the expensive oil she now lavishes on Christ.  Our vision of her at this time is one who has compartmentalized her emotions.  Inside she is afraid of what is coming (perhaps for her brother as well).  She is likely torn because of her great faith in Christ, but that needs to be put aside, there are guests to feed and a table to be tended.  If we look closely at her as she brings food to the table, we may see a tear in the corner of her eye.
Her sister Mary on the other had wears her heart on her sleeve as she performs the ritual, yet intimate, anointing of the Lord’s feet.  This is not done with workman-like dignity. We see her caressing the feet that will soon be pierced with spikes as Jesus is nailed to the cross.  Does she know or suspect?  The details are hidden from her, but her love of Jesus is clear to all.  Given the emotional charge her actions add to the scene, it would not be surprising if Judas’ outburst was more out of embarrassment than out of concern for the worth of the oil.
The author clearly does not paint Judas that way.  His Gospel tells us that the youngest Apostle (St. John the Evangelist and author of this Gospel) never trusted the holder of the purse.  He goes so far in this passage as to say of him: “…because he was a thief and held the money bag and used to steal the contributions.
Regardless of his intentions, we have now considered the picture in the house of Lazarus.  We ask ourselves in this Holy Week where we see ourselves?  Are we buried in work like Martha?  Are we weeping at the feet of Jesus like Mary?  Are we a bit put out over the whole thing like Judas? Or are we like Lazarus who is grateful to have his Savior with him?
As we walk these last few days of Lent, let us pray that we might have the best attributes of all, Martha’s strength, Mary’s love, even Judas’ concern for the poor.  Time is flying by now; we pray that we do not get lost in anticipation.

[1] The picture used is “St Mary Magdalene” by Carlo Dolci, 1644-46
[4] The Navarre Bible, “Gospels and Acts”, Scepter Publishers, Princeton, NJ, © 2002, pp. 186

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