Dichotomy of Life

John 12: 1-11
Isa 42:1-7 / Ps 27:1-3,13-14

You will always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.
(John 12:8)

Darkness and light, sunshine and rain,
Life’s a journey of joy and pain;
Laugh away tears, bear the sorrow:
There’ll always be hope tomorrow.

Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of Him but also to see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in Him. (John 12:1-11)


On the way to fulfilling His destiny in Jerusalem, Jesus decides to spend His precious last moments with the friends He loved most: Lazarus and his sisters Martha and Mary. They prepare a feast for Him and His apostles. Martha personally attends to His meal, and Mary brings out the most expensive ointment to anoint Him as Messiah and King. But in the midst of love and merriment, there is always a fly in the ointment: Judas and the chief priests. If the three siblings represent love, true fellowship, caring and the reincarnated life, Judas and the religious leaders represent greed, hypocrisy, envy, hatred and death.

Today’s Gospel is a scene of stark contrasts, displaying the best and the worst in men. Mary’s act of genuine love for Jesus elicited a response of false charity for the poor from Judas. The fragrance of the perfume filled the air, but so did the vile odor of envy and hatred from the chief priests, who plotted the death of Jesus and Lazarus. The irony is not lost on us that in the midst of the festivities, in the presence of the person He brought back to life, Jesus would predict His own death by saying, “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.” Isaiah (1st reading) called Him ‘the victory of justice’ and ‘a covenant of the people, a light for the nations’, but He would accomplish this through the most horrifying torture, shame and death that no sinless man or woman ever deserved.

The culmination of Lent brings us face to face with the reality that life here on earth will always be a dichotomy. As sure as night follows day, and vice versa, after the joys and merriment come the inevitability of parting and sorrow. Love is present, but hatred lurks not far behind. If we have the light of truth, it is almost certain that there also lurks the shadow of hypocrisy. And as we enter the seeming darkness of the passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ, we can only thank God for the hope that these will also bring forth His victorious Resurrection, and our promised salvation. “I believe I shall enjoy the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Psa.27:13). This is our response to life’s dichotomy.

Help us, Father God, to prepare ourselves in commemorating the passion and death of Your Beloved Son, as befits His faithful followers, in penance and mortification, and in genuine love for “the poor who will always be with us.” Amen.

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