Monday in Holy Week
By Br Joseph Bailham | Traditionally Monday of Holy Week is known as ‘Fig Monday’ because the Gospel of the day used to be the account in St Mark’s Gospel of Christ cursing the fig tree. Currently in the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite we are given the account in St John’s Gospel of St Mary Magdalene anointing the feet of Our Lord in Bethany whilst at supper with the recently raised-from-the-dead Lazarus.
Traditionally Monday of Holy Week is known as ‘Fig Monday’ because the Gospel of the day used to be the account in St Mark’s Gospel of Christ cursing the fig tree. Currently in the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite we are given the account in St John’s Gospel of St Mary Magdalene anointing the feet of Our Lord in Bethany whilst at supper with the recently raised-from-the-dead Lazarus. The name of Fig Monday fits today as well, because Bethany, where today’s extract from the Gospel unfolds (and is the town from which Our Lord departs before cursing the fig tree), is said to mean ‘house of figs’. Origen and Alcuin both suggest that Bethany means ‘house of obedience’. The fig tree, generally speaking, stands for Israel, God’s chosen people. For us it thus also refers to the Church, which is God’s expanded Israel where the division between Jew and Gentile is abolished. The Church is the house of obedience to God’s Word.
We have here then the members of Christ’s nascent Church and a prefiguring of Her rites: the meal and the sacred oils. Much focus is often given to Mary sparing no expense on Our Lord by the pouring out of the precious oil. However, I want to turn our gaze to that more sorry character, Judas. It is good for us to see that within this house of obedience we have one who is not only a thief, but one who would betray Our Lord in a most serious way. Judas is quick to point the finger at Mary for her dramatic act. He knew the cost of everything, and value of nothing. St Augustine says that Judas ‘was already a thief, already lost, and followed our Lord in body, not in heart; wherein we are taught the duty of tolerating wicked men, lest we divide the body of Christ’. Judas is a salient reminder for us to examine whether we follow Our Lord in our heart rather than just pay Him lip service.
The Fathers say that Judas was given responsibility over the common purse as it would give him no other excuse for wanting money, or that it was to signify that matters pertaining to money come second to the ministry of doctrine. However, in this account what I see is the constant offering of grace and the opportunity to change. Judas is a thief taking money from the common fund and a deceiver. Yet he does not need to be this way. He abuses his responsibility. It is very easy to wonder why on earth someone with such failings might hold such a important role for the wider community. Perhaps it is Our Lord seeing clearly, not only the inherent goodness of the person of Judas whom he created and sustained in existence, but also his ability to change. We might want to see the treasury as the grace of God on offer to Judas. Does he use it for his flourishing, or is it neglected and abused? What do we do with God’s grace?
There is not long to go until the bells of Easter toll out through our churches and into our towns and cities. There is time for us to change, to repent, to turn from our self-centredness and to pour ourselves out in charity like Mary. Let us follow her, and not Judas’s distressingly sad example.