5 Lent – Year C

Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126; Philippians 3:4b-14; John 12:1-8

“No one has ever said it but how painfully true it is that the poor have us always with them.” – Hector Hugh Munro

This is Spikenard Sunday. The perfume Mary used to anoint Jesus’ feet was spikenard (see Greek below). Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead, was present at this dinner party. The stench of death that once lingered over the house is now replaced by the fragrance of love and devotion. Not just any aroma. This is the really good stuff. Judas says it could have been sold for almost a year’s wages (see Greek below) (John 12:5). Judas, being a thief, deceptively says he wanted to give the money to the poor. Jesus dismisses this idea by saying we will always have the poor with us, but we will not always have him. This does not mean that he did not care for the poor. His whole life tells us the contrary. The point of this passage is that Jesus is going to die. Jewish teaching places honoring the dead over almsgiving. So let Mary anoint the body for burial (John 12:7). We in our society may indeed respect the dead but we try to make them cosmetically pleasant, and keep our distance. (see The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker) Death can be down and dirty as Jesus’ death was. We as Christians are to die with Jesus. We can do this by going to the rough place where people are dying emotionally because of loneliness and neglect. An example of this is Mother Teresa of Calcutta who died among the poor many times before her body died. We may wonder how we could possibly be like Mother Teresa. We can. Mother Teresa once said for us not to come to India. Just go next door she advised. People now days may not use the perfume of spikenard any longer. But we can metaphorically bring spikenard to our neighbor. A very practical suggestion is that we might in our own town volunteer for hospice or bring food to families of the bereaved.


The Greek word used in John 12:3 is best translated “spikenard.” It has a musky odor. It is made from dry roots and young stems of the East Indian plant Nardostachys Jatamansi. In ancient days it was used for perfume. Are there any retro people today still using it?

In John 12:5 Judas says the one pound of this perfume could have been sold for 300 denarii. A denarius was a day’s wage. Therefore the perfume was worth almost a year’s wage.


Death’s door approaching,

smell the spikenard all astir.

So dying so live.