INCALCULABLE VALUE OF LIFE
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [IS 42:1-7; PS 27:1-3, 13-14; JN 12:1-11 ]
In the world today, life is not valued. Sometimes we treat human life worse than our pets. There is this hypocrisy in the world that is not much different from that of Judas who said, “‘Why wasn’t this ointment sold for three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor?’ He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he was in charge of the common fund and used to help himself to the contributions.” Indeed, whilst the world speaks so much about human rights, they do not respect the rights of the elderly and unborn. It is ironical because the weak and the vulnerable are those who cannot defend or speak for themselves. Whilst we encourage adoption even by same-sex couples, many couples are not willing to have children because they are afraid to lose their freedom and mobility. On the world-stage, countries that fight for democracy and protection of their citizens treat other human lives as non-entities. They can use all the advanced arms and send their soldiers to kill not just their enemies but also innocent lives. When one of their soldiers dies in battle, there is a big outcry but when others are killed innocently, the world just watches without any regret.
In the gospel today, we have Mary who “brought in a pound of very costly ointment, pure nard, and with it anointed the feet of Jesus, wiping them with her hair; the house was full of the scent of the ointment.” The ointment was very expensive and would have cost a year’s wages. Like Judas, we would logically think it is rather extravagant to throw away money on such non-essentials. Of course, like Judas, we make all kinds of excuses why we should not give money to the Church to build the House of God and purchase all the vestments and sacred vessels. We should buy the cheapest and not spend too much money on worship. But we just have to look at our houses. They are much more exquisitely decorated with expensive and branded materials. But for the House of God, we lament and criticize that we spend too much. Indeed, like Judas, we practise double standards.
But Jesus makes it clear that love does not count the cost. When we love, there is nothing too costly to give to our loved ones. Otherwise, we should not be using our money to buy diamonds and gold jewellery because they are useless things. They cannot be eaten! Love is not measurable by money. What we give to people are but tokens of our expression of love. In the case of Mary, she loved the Lord deeply. So devoted and faithful was her love that she did not mind giving the best to the Lord. Not only did she anoint His feet with ointment but wiped them with her hair. When we love, there are no limits to how we show our love. We always give the best to our loved ones, be it food, things or money. Do we count the cost when we spend money on our loved ones? We only count the cost when our love is lacking. We become calculative when we give out of obligation. Hence, the Lord told Judas, “Leave her alone; she had to keep this scent for the day of my burial. You have the poor with you always, you will not always have me.”
But there is also another lesson to learn as well. The Lord was not just basking in Mary’s love; He wanted to demonstrate the value of life. By accepting Mary’s anointing of His feet, which is the lowest part of the human body, the Lord is inviting us all to contemplate the sacredness of the human body. If the feet, which is the lowliest part of the human body, is honoured by Mary, how much more important is it for us to respect the dignity of the human body and not just life itself. Even a dead body must be given due respect and honour because it is the symbol of the person who was alive. And this body is destined for the resurrection. That is why the Church has specific rules with respect to burial and cremation, so that the body is given the dignity it deserves as when the person was alive.
Consequently, we must treat our bodies with respect and dignity at all times. To love our soul is also to love our bodies. St Paul wrote, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” (1 Cor 3:16f) “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.” (1 Cor 6:19f) Indeed, we must glorify God by using our bodies for good and not for evil, for love and not as a thing to be used and abused. To love God means that we must take care of our bodies, that we live healthily, exercise regularly, eat and drink moderately, and keep good hygiene. We must not think that we are loving God when we do not take proper care of our bodies. God wants us to be well and healthy. When we abuse our bodies and use it only for pleasure or allow pleasures to destroy our bodies, we are doing a grave injustice to God who has bought us with the price of His blood!
Indeed, we must be watchful of those who seek to destroy the body either by killing or by abuse. This was the case of the chief priests who “decided to kill Lazarus as well, since it was on his account that many of the Jews were leaving them and believing in Jesus.” They were not only intent on killing Jesus but also Lazarus, even though the latter had done nothing wrong. Taking innocent lives and abusing our bodies is truly an act of grave injustice to humanity. When we are consumed by evil and selfishness, we cannot see the truth of what we are doing. Those who advocate abortion do so because they can only think of themselves, their convenience, their pleasures and their security. They have no regard for the lives of vulnerable babies. Similarly, who advocate euthanasia do so because they are bankrupt in love. We no longer value our elderly who spent their lives caring for us, working and loving us. We want our freedom and enjoyment. When there is no love and gratitude for our elderly, they become a burden to us.
Today, the Lord is reminding us through the Suffering Servant that if we love Him, then we must anoint His body by loving Him in the poor and in the suffering. This is what the Lord said, “I, the Lord, have called you to serve the cause of right; I have taken you by the hand and formed you; I have appointed you as covenant of the people and light of the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to free captives from prison, and those who live in darkness from the dungeon.” This is why the washing of the feet on Holy Thursday is an invitation for us to love His Church, which includes all sinners and everyone who is wounded, hurt, marginalized, and sick – the outcasts of society. These are the people we are called to reach out to. This explains why the Holy Father, Pope Francis choose to wash the feet of prisoners and those who are considered outcasts in society on Holy Thursday.
But more than just washing their feet, or reaching out to them, we need to “bring true justice to the nations. He does not cry out or shout aloud, or make his voice heard in the streets.” We do this not in a hostile or aggressive way but gently proclaim the truth wherever we are and whenever we can. There is no need to take up arms or join in protests and demonstrations. But we act in love, speak with respect and humility, and dialogue with those who do not see the truth. Indeed, the Suffering Servant “does not break the crushed reed, nor quench the wavering flame. Faithfully he brings true justice; he will neither waver nor be crushed until true justice is established on earth, for the islands are awaiting his law.”
But we cannot do what the Lord is asking of us unless we are filled with His Spirit. “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom my soul delights. I have endowed him with my spirit.” We must imitate Mary who allowed herself to be loved by the Lord and bask in His love. Only when we come to adore the Lord and love Him with all our soul, heart and strength, can we then find the power to do what the Suffering Servant did and how our Lord gave Himself and His body and blood for the salvation of humanity. Only in Him can we remain strong and firm. With the psalmist, we say, “Though an army encamp against me my heart would not fear. Though war break out against me even then would I trust.”
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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