Last night at the 40 Days for Life Closing Rally, my good friend and sidewalk counsellor Doris G happened to mention in passing the passage where Mary anointed Jesus’s feet with “costly oil”. She went on to say that the cost of that oil was almost a year’s wages. I found that rather astounding, but I did some fact checking and apparently it’s true. A day wage for a labourer in that time was a denarius. Therefore, three hundred denarii is almost one year’s full wages! Let’s bring up the passage here and consider the implications of it:
Mary took a pound of costly ointment of pure nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” This he said, not that he cared for the poor but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box he used to take what was put into it. Jesus said, “Let her alone, let her keep it for the day of my burial. The poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.” (John 12:1-8)
Now we all know the gag about Judas being called the patron saint of Social Justice, largely because of this passage. And rightly so too. Jesus puts him in his place, just like He does with all the rest of the social justice lobby in the Church. Why? Because the Gospel is ultimately about eternal things, not temporal ones. One day, there will be no more poverty, but there will be hell fire torment forever. That’s the bottom line. It doesn’t mean we do not have a solemn obligation to alleviate the suffering that poverty brings, obviously. Like all the corporal acts of mercy, we are compelled to act. However, this is secondary. But secondary to what?
Jesus tells us. It is secondary to worship. You see, folks, as ignorant and dumb as I am on liturgical matters, even this dope gets it:
Mary was performing a liturgical act while Judas was pimping for social justice.
Jesus answered which action should be in first place. And by how far should liturgy surpass social justice? By three hundred denarii, to be exact. A year’s full wages before Development & Peace, and the rest of the social justice cabal gets one red shekel.
I also note in passing that the patron saint of social justice was described as a thief.