Jesus arrives in Bethany six days before the Passover. We have just learned that the authorities plan to put him to death. (See John 11:53-57.) And we can scarcely envision any alternative to his ultimate fate. We read of it as early as the first chapter (John 1:29, 36), and Mary’s anointing in chapter 12 seals it. But we are all the poorer if we fail to consider the intricacies of the story that leads up to the cross.
Many interpreters draw a singular connection between Mary’s anointing of Jesus and his burial. Jesus defends Mary’s act by proclaiming that she bought the ointment “so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.” But to focus only on the connection between anointing and burial in John’s Gospel is to miss Mary’s anticipating Jesus’ foot washing. Mary, a woman, epitomizes discipleship in the Fourth Gospel by fulfilling Jesus’ love command before he speaks it. (See John 13:1-35.)
As we begin this journey through Holy Week, many of our minds will turn to consider once more whether we can bear the true cost of discipleship. If we strive to live as Jesus lived, we must prepare to die as he died—and many of us have much to lose. But I wonder whether the journey of Lent remains incomplete unless we also recognize the quiet suffering of those who fall victim to oppression and social derision. They, like Mary, bear the marks of discipleship even before the season demands it. And they often have no one who calls attention to their plight.
As fear about our own fate calls for our attention, let us be mindful first for those who suffer in silence this day.