Posted by: Fr Chris | April 5, 2023

Anointing and Conversion: Holy Wednesday

Two opposite events happen today: Jesus is anointed at Bethany, and Judas confirms his betrayal with the priests.

Either Mary of Bethany, or an anonymous woman, breaks open an expensive jar of ointment, anointing our Lord with a spice so powerful that John says its aroma filled the whole house. Judas is furious, since it was so expensive, that it was equal to a year’s salary. But the gospels put in the telling detail of course that Judas was the treasurer of the apostles who embezzled from them, so a year’s wages would have been quite an addition to the pot. Yet he betrays Christ for 30 pieces of silver, the cost of a cheap slave. Like the innocent Joseph who was sold into slavery centuries before by his jealous brothers, Jesus is sold for next to nothing.

Christ of course rebukes Judas for his comments, and affirms that the anointing is preparation for his burial. After all he has been warning the apostles that he would indeed be betrayed, turned over to the Sanhedrin, suffer, and die on the cross. In the various readings of this week, we read about those who prepare for the Lord and those who don’t, in the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. We read of innocents who suffered: Job, whose wife makes the infamous comment “Curse God and die!” and Joseph, who was sold by his own brothers into Egyptian slavery. Moses loses his position of wealth and power and has to go out into the desert. Jesus is also innocent, and is sold to the high priest by one of his apostles, one of Christ’s chosen ones loved by Jesus.

So now the challenge lies before us as we enter the Triduum, the three holiest days of the calendar. Am I prepared for Jesus or not? Am I wise or foolish? Am I willing to give of myself completely to Jesus, the way the woman who anoints him does? Or am I letting some of my sinful habits hold me back from being fully embraced by Jesus, from fully embracing Jesus myself? What path am I walking on?

Christ suffers in order to save the human race. He will establish the sacraments of the Eucharist and the priesthood tomorrow night. When he dies on the cross, his pierced heart will gush forth blood and water, representing baptism and the eucharist, and he will breathe out his last, representing the sacrament of chrismation/ confirmation. He gives of himself enormously, completely. Like Job and Joseph he is innocent, but their sufferings led to triumph: Job’s faith in God is rewarded with multiple blessings, and Joseph’s role in Egypt will save the new nation of Israel from dying of starvation. Moses lost his position of power in Egypt, but through God’s grace will lead Israel out of a land of slavery and idolatry into Sinai to meet God. Jesus in his innocence will do more than that, providing the way for the Church to be founded, born from his passion and death, in order to provide the human race with a path to salvation and deliverance from idolatry.

The mystery of anointing is given tonight in commemoration of Jesus’ anointing. It is for healing of soul and body, for the gift of new life through the power of God. In coming up to be anointed, let us ask the Lord for the grace to come through the Triduum well, to let go of our sins, and to be healed not only physically, but also of whatever is holding me back from God’s love. Unlike Judas, let us not hold on to what we know is sinful, but turn it over to God’s power and mercy.

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