Monday 26 March 2018
The flagellation of Christ, 1607 Museo Nazionale di Capodimente, Naples
Monday in Holy Week.
Isaiah 42:1-7. Psalm 26(27):1-3, 13-14. John 12:1-11.
The Lord is my light and my salvation—Psalm 26(27):1-3, 13-14.
You have the poor with you always, you will not always have me.
There is a story about a man who’d lived a frugal and faithful life. Finally, when he discovered he had terminal cancer and only weeks to live, he went out and bought an expensive new car with a five-year warranty. He’d never done any such thing before. His friends were bemused and asked him why. ‘You’ve got to love life while you have it,’ he said. Another story concerns a couple that decided to get married when the bride-to-be was already in palliative care. She lavished money on an exquisite dress for the occasion and invited all their friends to gather around her beside and drink fine champagne. ‘Love doesn’t die’, she said, before the couple promised ‘to have and to hold … until death do us part.’
Both these stories remind us of the woman in today’s Gospel, Mary, who spent the equivalent of almost a year’s wages on perfume for Jesus’ body. It was an extravagant gesture. The scene is very sensual. The smell fills the house. Mary massages Jesus’ feet with her hair. The gentleness of her touch contrasts with the scene of the flagellation of Christ painted by Caravaggio. Look at the hand of the guard in the picture who is pulling Jesus’ hair, trying to force his head out of the way. That hand is full of aggression to match the anger in the man’s face. In the Gospel, Judas is angry. He hides his anger in a rationalisation about wasting money; his life is full of dark secrets. Jesus is more open. He knows his death is coming. ‘You will not always have me,’ he says. We all need to express the love we experience while we have the opportunity to do so.