[A 3 minute read]
“You can always tell when it’s one of the monk’s birthdays,” said the Abbot as he began one of his addresses. We were ordinands from St Stephen’s House, taking a retreat at Alton Abbey, a few dozen of us coping with cold rooms and faulty plumbing! The Abbot continued, “Yes, you can always tell, there’s the definite aroma of aftershave in the air!” Having taken a vow of poverty, the birthday celebrating monk in question, perhaps, valued the gift more than many would. He splashed out, or rather splashed on, a rare luxury. It was at the same Abbey, some years later, as a priest, that I returned for a retreat on my own. On one of these days I made my confession to one of the brothers. At the end, his penance was something strange, perhaps, but well received. “When you go home, I want you to go shopping, and I want you to buy something for you, something for yourself. Maybe a jumper or an item of clothing. Something for you.” It’s only now, twenty five years later, that I have connected the two in my mind.
It’s almost Passover, and Jesus is back in Bethany, at home with Mary and Martha (John 12:1-11). During dinner, she pours out perfume upon the feet of Jesus, splashes out, splashes on, a rare luxury. The gift is costly, expensive and, to the objective observer, a waste of money, a pointless effort. Suddenly, the dinnertime atmosphere has changed as antagonism and anger meet the sweet aroma of Mary’s action which gets up the nose of Judas Iscariot. Soon, Jesus is talking about death and dying, about the burial of his own body. This is not the kind of after dinner talk any of them expected but Mary’s love has filled the room, and it is only love that drives Jesus to death, to his outstretched arms on the cross. In just a few days’ time, his body is dropped from the cross, given a rushed burial. It is only later, as dawn breaks, that the women return with perfumed oils and, there, discover the empty tomb and the power of love.
There may be occasions when we or others are misunderstood, maybe overlooked or undermined, when gifts go unnoticed, or they are derided, belittled, left to no use, given no worth. There are times, too, when we or others may need to be indulged, affirmed, have something for ourselves, be reminded of our worth, our value, our uniqueness. Mary has dug deep, she has given to Jesus a gratuitous gift, and in prophetically pouring the perfume upon his feet has declared her love for him. What a wonderful waster, Mary is! She has totally splashed out. Love is in the air.