Remember the gospel from last Sunday – the one about the woman anointing Jesus’ feet? There are many layers of meaning to this gospel passage, and while we have already reflected on it, I’d like to look at it more closely. Often as Catholics, we do not always study the layers of meaning in our Scripture readings, often because we do not spend the time to study Sacred Scripture at all! This week I would like to take a moment to delve deeper into that particular reading.
One important aspect of this gospel reading, sometimes overlooked, is the great significance of the act of anointing itself, which is just one of the indicators we have from the Old Testament that this is the Christ, the Messiah! Christ, in this moment, prophesies his own burial (“She has prepared me for burial.”) While the woman was not anointing him a priest, as Jesus is anointed by the Holy Spirit, the very act of anointing itself hearkens back to the anointing of Aaron, which we read about in the books of Exodus and Leviticus. This anointing consecrated Aaron for his “holy duties”, that is, his priesthood. In this gospel, the symbolism in the act of anointing Jesus is to prepare him for his holy duties, his priesthood, his sacrifice on the cross. Leviticus (21:10) says that the high priest is anointed with oil and is ordained to wear the priestly garments. The one who is anointed is dedicated to God. Jesus is THE ULTIMATE high priest. He is anointed not only with oil, but with the Spirit.
We also read about the anointing of David as King in 1 Samuel 16, where Samuel anoints David with the “horn of oil” and the Spirit of the Lord rushes down on David. The psalms serve as further reminder that David is anointed as the Lord’s servant (see Psalm 89) This is important to keep in mind when reading our gospel passage also, as Jesus is not only anointed priest, he is also King. This is one of the reasons we hear in the baptismal rite of anointing that we are anointed just as Jesus was, “Priest, Prophet and King”. Of course, Jesus did not need to be anointed with oil, since he was anointed with the Holy Spirit (Acts 10), but this is one of the many signs of the Messiah.
While we could examine anointings in the Bible for a very long time (I am not intending to be comprehensive!), it comes down to one thing. This gospel reminds us who Jesus is – the Christ. The very word “Christ” comes from the Greek “Khristos”, meaning: The Anointed One. He is the Messiah!