Matthew tells us that two days before the Passover (which will be celebrated this Wednesday), Jesus was in the house of Simon the leper and an unnamed ‘woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard…and poured the ointment on his head’. It is extravagant, luxurious, but also a gesture reminiscent of the anointing of kings such as Saul, David, or Solomon, to name a few. Also, it is only a matter of days before the Lamb of God is sacrificed and the ointment is points simultaneously toward his death: at the same time Judas is planning his betrayal. In John’s gospel, it is Mary who pours perfume made of pure nard on Jesus’s feet and wipes them with her hair. If servants usually clean the feet of guests with water, as Jesus does with his disciples at the Last Supper, to use oil would be reserved for prestigious guests.

As it happens, both of these stories have been mixed up with another one: the woman in Luke’s account, ‘who was a sinner’, and who, on hearing that Jesus had been invited to share a meal, bathed his feet with her tears, dried them with her hair and anointed them with oil brought, also, in an alabaster jar, while the host had not even given him water. Each time, either the woman or Jesus is blamed (for bringing such a gift, or accepting such a gift). Each time, the hypocrisy of the accusers is pointed out. Holy Week is a precious time to reflect on Jesus’ body and its mystery, as both fully human and the incarnation of God.