Franciscan Spirit Blog

Lent with Richard Rohr: The Servant of the ‘Servant of Yahweh’

Monday of Holy Week | Readings: Isaiah 42:1-7; John 12:1-11


I cannot find any obvious or clear connection between the two readings today. They both stand alone as masterpieces of revelation and of theology.

In Isaiah we have the first of the rightly named “Servant Songs,” which will continue throughout the week. In these four accounts hidden away in Isaiah, one either sees a foretelling of Jesus in brilliant analysis, or one wonders if Jesus was “modeled” to fit these lovely descriptions. The correlation is uncanny, at any rate.

In the Gospel from John we have a woman acting as the “servant” to Jesus. (Maybe this is the connection?) We have Mary of Bethany again taking the fervent disciple’s role instead of the hostess role of Martha. She anoints Jesus’ feet with expensive nard, which is the anointing oil for death. My interpretation of this from all three varied Gospel accounts is that Mary is accepting the inevitability and necessity of death for Jesus (which Peter and the male inner circle cannot do!). “The whole house is filled with the fragrance.”

Judas is the spokesman in the story, and he pretends to prefer the poor to a simple act of love. That is the clear point. It is forever a judgment on what we might now call “ideology on the left,” a good balance after the text has heavily criticized the ideology of religious zealots and Pharisees on the “right.” Jesus’ response appears to be directly from Deuteronomy: “There will always be poor in the land. I command you therefore, always be open-handed with anyone in the country who is in need or is poor” (15:11).

Unfortunately, only the first phrase is quoted in the Gospel text, with the sad result that people have used this story to teach that religious piety is more important than social justice. As Paul will insightfully say later, “If I give away all that I possess, piece by piece, or even if I give away my body to be burned, but do not have love, it is useless” (1 Corinthians 13:3). As always, love of Jesus and love of justice for the neighbor are just two different shapes to the One Love.


“He shall bring forth justice to the nations. But he will not cry out or make his voice heard in the street. . . until he establishes justice on the earth. . . . I, the Lord, have called you for the victory of justice. . . to open the eyes of the blind, and to bring out prisoners from confinement.” Isaiah 42:1–2, 4, 7


“God of love and justice, let me know and live that they are not separate. Loving people will do justice, and just people will do their work with love and respect.”

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