+In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
The first thing that strikes me about the verses that we have heard from Psalm 36 is the similarity between the language the psalmist uses about God, and the language that Jesus uses about Himself. There are a number of examples.
The psalmist writes, “All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings”, and this reminds us of Jesus’ words recounted in the gospels according to St Matthew and St Luke, describing His desire to gather the children of Jerusalem together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.
The psalmist writes, “They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights”, and this brings to mind the great abundance miracles particularly of John’s gospel – the Wedding at Cana in Galilee, the Feeding of the Multitude, and of course the great bread of life discourse: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
The psalmist writes “For with you is the fountain of life”, which may remind us of the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well in John’s gospel, in which Jesus tells the woman: “whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life”.
And finally, the psalmist writes “in your light we see light” reminds us of Jesus’ saying: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
What a rich set of linkages between this psalm and the words Jesus uses to describe Himself in the gospels, all of them beautiful and striking images which point to Jesus’ identity; again and again Jesus is found in the gospels using language about Himself which in the vocabulary of the Old Testament is used to describe God.
If the images of the psalm point us towards Jesus’ divinity, the gospel by contrast is a very human story, with its emphasis on Jesus’ physicality and the human senses – the scene is a very visual one, a scene we can readily imagine in our mind’s eye, a scene that is popular with artists, and the sense of smell is also strongly present in the costly perfume whose fragrance fills the house.
Jesus interprets Mary’s extraordinary act of devotion to Him as a preparation for His burial, and we remember the women bringing the spices to His tomb, who receive the first signs of the Resurrection. As a preparation for Jesus’ burial, once again it is His humanity that is emphasised in this story, His vulnerability to death, His sharing in the common fate of the whole human race. Like all of us, He is to be dead and buried.
And yet I cannot help thinking that in this story we also have a sign of Jesus’ divinity in the offering of the perfume, reminiscent of the incense associated with divine worship in ancient times, as it still is for some of us today. We see in the abundant generosity of Mary’s anointing of Jesus an image of fitting worship – we offer to God the best that we have. And in Mary’s use of her own hair, we see too a sign of her offering herself, which is also a part of our worship.
May we like Mary be generous in giving the best that we have to God, giving even our very selves, just as God is abundant and generous to us, and just as God offers Himself to us in Jesus Christ, truly God and truly human, to whom with the Father and the Holy Spirit be all praise and glory, now and for ever. Amen.