Grace freely given-the Anointing at Bethany

Grace, Mercy, Compassion, and Forgiveness freely and willingly offered to those who repent.

Strangely so, all the excitement of the procession into Jersualem, the crowds chanting, the road strewn with coats and branches – it all leads up to, well, nothing. Mark Chapter 11, 11 tells us that Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts, he looked around he then turns around and returns to Bethany. And Bethany is where a very significant event takes place, one that often is glossed over on our Holy Week journey.
On the Monday of Holy Week, we are given a Gospel text which often passed over, the Anointing at Bethany. The anointing of Jesus at Bethany is an event which is narrated in the accounts of the four evangelists, something which is relatively rare. The details differ slightly from evangelist to evangelist.
As Jesus dines with his beloved friends, Mary does something which only love can do. She took the most precious thing she had and spent it all on Jesus. Her love was not calculated but extravagant. Not some cheap romance or TV soap love but one of complete and oblivious donation! Mary's action was motivated by one thing, and one thing only, namely, her love for Jesus and her gratitude for God’s mercy. She did something; however, a Jewish woman would never do in public. She loosed her hair and anointed Jesus with her tears. Matthew and Mark have the woman who carries out the anointing anoint Jesus on the head, Luke and John have her anoint his feet.
aromatic oil, if made of something like nard, would have been extremely expensive, costing up to a year’s pay for an average labourer.
Anointing of Christ- Julia Stankova
Mary anoints Jesus with a costly ointment called nard or spikenard, a fragrant oil from the root and spike of the nard plant of northern India. This
We can imagine how that precious perfume may have run down His clothes and onto His feet. Mary got on the ground, on her knees, with her hair, and she washed His feet. It was customary for a woman on her wedding day to bind her hair and for a married woman to loosen her hair in public was a sign of grave immodesty. Mary was oblivious to all around her, except for Jesus. She took no thought for what others would think. In humility she stooped to anoint Jesus' feet and to dry them with her hair.

In this holy week, we can ask ourselves, how do we anoint the Lord’s feet and show him our love and gratitude? Her deed of love shows the extravagance of love, a love that we cannot outmatch. The Lord Jesus showed us the extravagance of his love in giving the best he had by pouring out his own blood for our sake and by anointing us with his Holy Spirit. Judas viewed her act as extravagant wastefulness because of greed. It is here that we see that Judas was an embittered man and had a warped sense of what was precious and valuable, especially to God.
The anointing of the Jesus brings out an important contrast, a contrast of the insight and devotion of Mary, and the indifference and deadened responses of the disciples. Remember, just a few days later, in the upper room, Jesus is going to wash their feet as an example of servanthood. She is washing the feet of the Son of God in the most extravagant way. She’s serving, but with a spirit of devotion. She’s doing the foot-washing, but in a way that cost her entire inheritance. She threw her whole future into this.

From start to finish, then, life as a child of God is marked by excess and extravagance, both given and received. We see that God never holds back on the extravagance, but it is not nard that is poured but the blood of his Beloved Son from the Cross which anoints us. Extravagance moves both ways. It's reciprocal, both given and received, by both God and his people. Sometimes God is the giver; at other times we are. At the wedding party in Cana, God provided a surplus of wine. At this dinner party in Bethany, Mary gave a gift of expensive perfume. Whether divine or human, given or received, these acts of reckless abundance are signs of what life is like with the living God. All of us want to feel that we are ‘worth’ something, to somebody, to the world. We like to feel our worth reflected back to us through affirmation, compliments, success and much more. But often we forget that we don’t have to do anything to earn the love of the Father. It is grace, pure grace.
The question is, are we ready to do the same? To be this self-emptying gift of prayer and joyful love, unafraid of stares or conflict from an often uncomprehending society? Are you willing to be balm for the brokenness and hurt of today’s humanity?” For those around her, the gesture by the woman in the Gospel was a ‘waste’!

We may not have the huge supply of nard but we can offer our time and prayer and our presence. We can ‘waste’ time with Jesus and just bask in his presence and feel that balm being applied to our weary lives, restoring our health and welcoming us as beloved children.
Pope Francis’ favourite image of the priest is of one who is anointed so as to anoint others with the oil, that is, the oil of gladness. He said a good priest anoints his people “with the oil of gladness,” by preaching the Gospel “with unction,” He continues saying “We need to ‘go out,’ then, in order to experience our own anointing, its power and its redemptive efficacy: to the ‘outskirts’ where there is suffering, bloodshed, blindness that longs for sight, and prisoners in thrall to many evil masters. The power of grace “comes alive and flourishes to the extent that we, in faith, go out and give ourselves and the Gospel to others, giving what little ointment we have to those who have nothing, nothing at all.”
The anointing which a priest receives at his ordination is not meant just for himself: it is to flow through him to those he serves. So at the heart of the priesthood is joy, a humbling joy received from God and a joy to be shared with others. God anointed his servants so they would be there for others, serving “the poor, prisoners, the sick, for those who are in sorrow and alone. The precious sacramental oil “is not intended just to make us fragrant, much less to be kept in a jar, for then it would become rancid and the heart bitter.”
During Holy Week, the bishop, joined by the priests of the diocese, gather at the Cathedral to celebrate the Chrism Mass. This Mass manifests the unity of the priests with their bishop and there the bishop blesses three oils, the Oil of Catechumens, the Oil of the Infirm and Holy Chrism which will be used in the administration of the sacraments throughout the diocese for the year.
The oils are kept in sacred vessels and here we can reflect on how often we too are vessels of the graces of the Father. However, St. Paul reminds us that we are very human and we must rely on his grace, “But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.” (2 Cor 4:7). The alabaster jar which held the perfume was broken to release the nard in order for Mary to carry out the anointing. Clay jars can break easily too. There is a very interesting quote from the late Bishop Fulton Sheen.
"Broken things are precious. We eat broken bread because we share in the depth of our Lord and His broken life. Broken flowers give perfume. Broken incense is used in adoration. A broken ship saved Paul and many other passengers on their way to Rome. Sometimes the only way the good Lord can get into some hearts is to break them."  -Fulton Sheen
Yes we all have cracks but that doesn’t mean we are broken. Those cracks are the hairline fractures of life which remind us that we are fragile and that we can break. The cracks make us who we are. It’s when we are crushed and broken and disappointed, our dreams shattered, that we begin to rely on the Lord. In China, when a precious vase breaks, the cracks are painted over in gold paint, indicating that the cracks are precious and are now part of the vase. So in some sense we are and will be always cracked pots (or crackpots!), until we reach that perfection in Heaven.
Without a deep sense of being held in this extravagant love, it would be hard to trust, face various decisions or let go of any safety nets which we have woven in order to keep God’s plans out and ours in! I am sure that, like the woman in the Gospel, that only when we stop measuring our relationship and respond to God’s call without measuring or counting, that we receive the immensity of grace which He wants to pour onto our vulnerable love.