The nard oil that Mary used to anoint Jesus' body came from the spikenard plant in India. The oil was placed in an alabaster box then transported by caravan across the long flat desert to the markets of Jerusalem.
One pound of nard oil cost 300 denari, the equivalent of nearly one year's wages for a common laborer.
Spikenard is still costly – a pound now runs about $480. There are many corners of this globe today where that would be one year's wages. So it is not an unreasonable question Judas asks:
"Why was this perfume not sold...and the money given to the poor?"
The gospel writer whispers to us that Judas is a thief and has no intention of spending the money on the poor. But that doesn't answer the question that has lingered in the air through the ages: couldn't that money be better spent on the poor?
"Leave her alone," Jesus replies. "You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me."
This fact also lingers in the air: the poor are still with us. Today, though, Jesus reminds us of another fact: He is with us. He bids us to linger awhile precisely because the poor are with us and we have work to do tomorrow.
When I hear this passage, I think of all of the loving hands of those who have prepared holy places for worship Sunday after Sunday, year after year, century after century.
I think of those who have pressed the linens, and baked the bread, filled the cruets with wine, and arranged the flowers that will soon adorn sacred spaces at Easter. I think of grand cathedrals and simple chapels, and a beach in Central America long ago with friends from CDSP celebrating together our Holy Eucharist with a spark that felt as if it were the first time.
Today, linger awhile. Jesus is filling us with passion and courage – and the strength to feed the poor in body, mind and spirit.
Linger awhile. Be extravagant in your love for the living Christ, and extravagant in your love for each other. Worship fully, pray earnestly, sing loudly, give generously, and share in the bread and wine of our sacred meal as if it were the first time.
Tomorrow there is work to be done.