The Sunday preceding Palm Sunday and Holy Week is called Passion Sunday. The liturgical colour changes from penitential purple to the red that at any other time of year distinguishes a feast celebrating a martyr of the church. From now until Good Friday the use of the colour red points to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Together the church is
'... looking to Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end.' (Hebrews 12:2)
Today's Gospel tells of Jesus being anointed by Mary the sister of Lazarus in their home at Bethany. It is an act of extravagant generosity that draws attention to her. The traitor Judas starts arguing about the appropriateness of her gesture but his indignation gets deflated by what Jesus says
“Leave her alone. She bought 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.” (John 12:7-8)
Despite references to his possible fate Jesus had been making lately, none of his disciples had taken this to heart. Here again, he tries to warn them of an approaching disaster which will try them to the limit, but this has no impact on them.
Mary's action expresses the deep love she has for Jesus. Whatever feeling she may have had for him as a man, it was her love for what he taught, and her gratitude for having raised her brother to life is what her action expresses. Could she have anticipated how Jesus was going to interpret her deed?
Down the ages, people have expressed gratitude to God for blessings received in offering the most extravagant gifts - money, treasures, entire buildings etc, making the church wealthy on times. Some have prefered to be generous to the poor instead. Who can ultimately judge the appropriateness of their actions, but God alone, who knows the secrets of our hearts?
Another story tells of Jesus being anointed by a woman weeping penitential tears, and when his host protests about this Jesus says
“Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little."
Gratitude for the mercy of forgiveness, and thanksgiving for blessings received give prayer its vitality. If penitence leads to sober humble self-estimation, praise renews confidence and hope abundantly. These are inseparable dimensions of relationship with God.